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

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Take Charge of Your Entries on the FamilySearch Family Tree

The Family Tree is a unified family tree program based on a wiki format. As such, entries in the Family Tree can be changed, edited, added, deleted and supplemented with sources, notes and discussions. To the uninitiated this format bespeaks instability and inaccuracy. To the contrary, it is a design that promotes stability and predictability. The ability of the program to adapt to the larger online FamilySearch community is the hallmark of the way the program evolves and becomes more accurate over time. Rather than becoming a balkanized camp of warring interests, the Family Tree will become the paragon of accuracy and last resort for establishing familial cooperation.

One of the predominant negative aspects of modern society which includes the FamilySearch community, is the tendency that participants in our society have to an attitude of victimization. A person with a victimization syndrome blames outside forces for their misfortune instead of taking control of their own life and refusing to submit to considering themselves a victim. It is certainly true that very bad things happen to people all the time, but a person suffering from a victimization syndrome believes they have no control over the way events happen and they constantly try to blame others, even vague outside forces, for things they can overcome. I have seen this happen with the Family Tree.

The most common symptom of victimization in using the Family Tree is to complain about "all the changes being made by FamilySearch." This usually focuses on specific changes or additional information added to a specific ancestor. Rather than understand how or why the changes are being made, the person retreats into their victim mentality and concludes that the program is broken. The last thing a person with the victimization syndrome wants to know is that they can do something about the situation. They revel in their status as victims.

One my early experiences in viewing a graphic example of victimization syndrome was watching a movie called "Tobacco Road." I won't go into the movie (or the book) but this depiction of people who seemed to have no control over events in their lives and who made short-sighted decisions based on expediency, had a very deep impact on me at the time.

Here is a list of some of the facts about the Family Tree that explain the seemingly random changes:

  • The transition from is not complete. Information is still being transferred from the old program to the Family Tree.
  • The information is only physically being added by FamilySearch. They did not create the content.
  • The content of the Family Tree represents an accumulation of all of the research done by anyone who submitted that information to FamilySearch or any of its predecessor organizations.
  • The collection online FamilySearch community can presently add additional information to the Family Tree and some of this information may be different than that in our own files.
  • Differences exist over the details of our ancestors families and even over the choice of ancestral lines.
  • All historical data including family histories are subject to revision with the addition of newly discovered or interpreted data.

The attitude of a victim to this scenario is to give up and complain that the Family Tree is "broken" or worse yet, refuse to use or even look at the Family Tree. The victim believes that they own their own data and that it is the only correct version of the family history. Therefore, any changes are negative and not positive.

The truth is that the Family Tree is a perfectly level playing field. Granted, no one likes to be told that they are wrong and have been for years, but anyone who signs into FamilySearch and begins work on the Family Tree has exactly the same level of right to use the tree as anyone else. In this regard, experience, knowledge and innate ability do not give any one participant an advantage over another. The Family Tree is an absolutely democratic method of displaying family history. It gives no advantage to autocrats or oligarchies.

Now, how do I propose addressing the random changes and incorrect information? First and foremost, I do not retire into a cocoon of victimization. I realize that there are things about the Family Tree I cannot yet control and will never control, but I do take charge of my own ancestry and work to provide accurate, sourced information about each family member. This is a slow, methodical process. Will I disagree with others in the Family Tree? Yes, certainly. Does that make me a victim? No. I only become a victim if I give up and fail to keep working to improve what I do have control over. It does no good to blame FamilySearch for all of the misinformation added from what was done by my own ancestors. Likewise, it does no good to blame the ignorant or careless who add wrong information to the Family Tree. I begin by focusing on those ancestors in my first four generations and do not carry the battle out to the 1700s or 1600s until I have adequately added all the sources and verified every fact connecting me to those more remote ancestors. I follow the basic admonition of family history, I move from the known to the unknown. But I do not forget that I must know something before I move.

I talk to those who criticize the Family Tree all the time and yet have not taken the time to enter the information and sources they already have into the program. They seemingly wish to remain victims and lose the opportunity to benefit from this fabulous tool. Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. The problem lies in ourselves. Quoting from William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2):
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Let us not be underlings or victims.


  1. Thought I should share an experience I had a couple weeks ago. I had added a burial date to an ancestor along with the source I got the info from. I was later contacted via email by a family member saying that the burial info I entered was wrong. I asked how they knew it was wrong (this record had the right name, parents, age, and location). Instead of giving me a reason it might be wrong, they just got really defensive and said I was just trying to start an argument. So basically instead of working together to find the truth, they just wanted me to leave things alone. But hey, at least they contacted me.

    1. Sorry, Had to remove your duplicate comment. This is a very common reaction and part of what I was talking about.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. The frustration I have with Family Tree is that there are no validation checks to help prevent irresponsible changes. That imposes a significant cost on those of us who are trying to be good citizens and maintain accurate data. Just this morning I had to spend time fixing a case where a user entered a christening date that was ten years after this person was married. They completely ignored all the source and documentation attached to the record. It seems FS needs to implement a basic set of validity checks that would as least question a user when they try to enter obviously incorrect data. Failing to do so means the rest of us have to spend a great deal of time cleaning up the mess.

    1. Family Tree is a Wiki, we are the validation checks. Changes will slow down over time.

    2. Changes migrated from new.FamilySearch will indeed come to a halt, but I doubt that other changes will slow down in the foreseeable future -- such as one I ran across two days ago, where a person with no public contact information merged two persons with completely different names, vital dates and locations. This sort of thing can not be blamed on activity via 3rd-party genealogy programs, and after one has a good laugh or cry, it is still a head-scratcher. There will be person with illogical bents forever.

    3. You only have to drive on Utah streets for a while to understand that kind of change completely!