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

Saturday, April 18, 2015

FamilySearch Family Tree is a Gift, Let's Not Misuse It

I have just gone through another round of working through issues caused by people indiscriminately adding names to the Family Tree with no concern for accuracy or any sense of propriety. This type of issue usually arises with someone's statement about adding thousands of names to the Family Tree in a very short period of time. Now, this may be possible in some very unusual cases, where a person has done extensive research on an ancestral line where very little prior work has been done, but my experience is that the large numbers most often come from unauthorized, individual, name extraction projects.

The hallmark of a name extraction project is collecting names without any pretense of putting individuals into validly documented family groups. Also, the names gathered are not verified as new to the Family Tree and are usually duplicates. These names commonly come from simply copying lists from existing books and other records, accepting the prior work done on its face without question. I have seen this happening with records that I inherited from my own ancestors. One of my relatives accumulated over 16,000 names during her lifetime, but only a much smaller number of these names were even arguably related to her.

Statements about the huge number of names submitted for Temple work, usually are accompanied by claims of lines going back to royalty. It would be interesting, if it could be done, (and I expect that it can be done) to isolate individual contributors who have entered a certain large number of records in a relatively short period of time and check to see exactly what they are doing. My guess is that you will find rampant disregard for sources and relationships.

This can be illustrated very easily from my own family lines on the Family Tree. Here is an interesting screenshot. By the way, I finally consistently got the new interface today, so I will be writing about it shortly.

I am looking at an Austin line. Stephen Austin II, (b. 1520, d. 1557 is shown to have married Margaret Wrigley (b. 1508, d. 1550) in Staplehurst, Kent, England. The source for this is listed as the "Austin and Rich Genealogy." Here is the complete source listing:

Austin and Rich genealogy Authors: Rich, Harold Austin, 1896- (Main Author) Format: Books/Monographs/Book on Film Language: English Publication: Washington [District of Columbia] : L.C. Photoduplication Service, 1984 Physical: 1 microfilm reel : ill., coats of arms, map. ; 35 mm. United States & Canada Film 1405320

In other words, the person who submitted this entry to the Family Tree blatantly admits having just copied the entries out a book. Here is the catalog entry for the book in the FamilySearch Catalog.

The catalog has the summary as follows:
Jonas (Jonah) Austin (1598-1683) emigrated from England to Newton (now Cambridge), Massachusetts, moving later to Hingham and then Taunton, Massachusetts. He married twice (once in England). Descendants and relatives lived chiefly in New England.
At this point, I am going to start using the Humphery-Smith, Cecil R. The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. Chichester: Phillimore, 1984. That shows the oldest known parish records for each parish in England.

Now it gets interesting. The first Austen (with an e) listed in my family line is a Mary Austen (b. 11 September 1603 in Goudhurst, Kent, England, d. none given) There are no sources given for Mary Austen in the Family Tree. Her father is supposed to be John Austen, (b. 9 February 1577 in Marden, Kent, England, d. 5 June 1631 in Goudhurst, Kent, England. This John Austen is listed with four different wives and at least 22 children.  The wives were all born in different places in Kent. So we begin to track the places where this line of people supposedly lived. We start in Goudhurst, then with the father who was supposedly born in Marden, hence to the Tenterden. The problem is that when we get to Tenterden and the birth of Richard Austin on the 19th of April 1544 in Tenterden, we have almost exhausted the parish registers. Both Goudhurst's and Marden's parish registers stop in 1558 and 1559. It is almost too convenient that the next Austin (with an i) in line is born in the last year that parish registers are available in Tenterden, quite a distance in that time period from either Goudhurst or Marden. So how do we get back one more generation with this family? We jump to the parish of Titchfield, Hampshire, England even outside of the same county, for Stephen Austin II, (b. 1520 in Titchfield, Hampshire, England, d. 17 November 1557 in Staplehurst, Kent, England. We have added two more parishes. Coincidently, the records in Staplehurst, Kent end in 1538 thus enabling us to move back one more generation. To make the connection, we have to jump to another county, Hampshire because, of course, we have run out of records in Kent.

Hampshire county is quite some distance from Kent, and interestingly, the records for Titchfield ended in 1589 so it must have been quite a feat to find Stephen Austin II's birthdate in 1520. His father Stephen Austin, (b. 1484 in Yalding, Kent, England, d. 17 November 1557 in Staplehurst, Kent, England) lived just long enough to die in Staplehurst a long way from his birth and the place where his son was born. At this point, we have come back to the book cited at the beginning of this search.

My conclusions. This whole line is fabricated from a series of people with similar surnames picked from counties and parishes where the records supposedly existed at the time. When the records ran out, the researchers just moved to a county with older records, picked up a similar surname and recorded the people who fell into the right time slot. The clincher in this theory? Yalding. A place known for its extensive records but according to the Phillimore Atlas, the records end in 1559.

To me, this is a classic example of a kluged pedigree. The researcher has simply chosen those individuals who fit from whatever parish was convenient. This particular Austin line finally ends in 1330 in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England with the birth of Edward Austin.

Although this illustration is somewhat complicated, it illustrates the issue of name gathering. Plucking names from different parishes in England to make a pedigree. This is classic name extraction. Some name extractors do not even make a pretense of logic. They just throw the names together without checking if the conglomeration is logical.


  1. The sad thing is that you know this, and I know this, but why is it that many at FamilySearch seem not to. In fact, they encourage folks, especially new users, to jump right in and start reserving names, or editing, or whatever, without explaining what you just did. The surname books in the FH Library are sometimes very good, but many times do just what you suggest above. And these are frequently used as the only sources for those records which go beyond 1600. That certainly is abuse.

    1. There is still an inordinate amount of respect for the printed word, just because it is printed.

  2. Thanks for the interesting (and entertaining!) post. My questions is what can be done to prevent (or at least slow down) the entry of bogus information like this in Family Tree? What do other wikis do to control abuse?

    1. Thanks for the question. Watch for an answer in an upcoming post.

  3. Thanks for a most interesting post. I subscribe to two Genealogy Programmes. Recently I had bunches of people just added in - don't know where from. Had to spend a day removing them. Liked your article for it also highlights the importance of proper research and questioning source.

    1. Thanks for the comment. The Family Tree is apparently working as it should.

  4. Hi distant cousins, I am guilty of that, but only in my personal tree at another service. I try to stay accurate in the USA, but I always assumed that most stuff before that is too old to take seriously. Someone traced our ancestery back to a giant who ruled Sweeden and Norway, and I got a chuckle out of it. Matt Anson (family was Austin prior to 1776ish.)