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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

People Not in the Family Tree!!

Why are individuals either in or not in the Family Tree? This may seem like an almost constant topic, but the question does come up continually and I find it necessary to repeat how the names get into the Family Tree program.

Where did the names come from? Unless you, yourself entered the names, they came from your relatives and ancestors. None of the names in the file come from "FamilySearch." All of them were and are user submitted. However, they were submitted in a variety of ways. For example, some of the names came from the Ancestral File. The names in this huge file came from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Somehow, an expectation has arisen among those not overly familiar with the Family Tree program that the Family is a source for "finding names to take to the Temple." In fact, there well may be some individuals in the Family Tree that have not yet had their ordinances completed. But the best source for finding such individuals is through doing new research and adding individuals who are not already in the tree.

There is no really fool-proof way to determine if a newly found individual is not already in the Family Tree. The best indicator that some one is already there is fact that the place they would occupy on the Family Tree is already filled with another individual's record. There is only one place (slot, entry, etc.) for each person. The idea behind the Family Tree is that each individual that ever lived would have a unique entry point on the Family Tree. If you add any one to the Family Tree without searching for duplicates, you are risking a very high probability that the person being entered is a duplicate of someone already in the Family Tree. Because of name variations and some uncertainty about dates and places, even a search for duplicates using the Find feature, will not always find every possible duplicate. For example, your newly discovered ancestor may be named "John Doe" but the Family Tree program already has that person with the name of "John" without a surname. How do you know if this is the same person? Essentially, you have to rely on the position of the person on the Family Tree and his relationships. If there is already a child in the family named "John" you would need to verify that the first one with the name died or establish some other reason why two people with the same name appear in the same family.

If I were to go through each of the Family Tree contributing databases (as I have in the past) we would see that there has been almost 150 years' worth of names already submitted and that people have been performing the ordinances for these individuals for most of that period of time. We should be truly surprised when an individual without his or her ordinances completed has escaped detection for all these years, contrary to the commonly held belief that the Family Tree is a source for finding names for the Temple.

This same line of reasoning applies to adding information to existing individuals in the Family Tree. Granted, some of the information is wrong and needs to be corrected. However, there is no need to "correct" information simply because what you have in your personal file differs from what is recorded online. There are a number of questions that you need to ask yourself before you change existing information in the Family Tree.

  1. Do I have a source for the information I am adding or "correcting?"
  2. Does the existing entry already have supporting sources?
  3. Have I examined each of the sources and evaluated the information?
  4. Does the information I am adding fit or appear more correct than the existing entries?
There are probably several more questions I could ask, but the point is that any changes to the program should be made only when you have a valid supporting source for the change and add the source to the individual's Detail Page when you make the change. You should also explain the why the change was made with an appropriate comment. Do not be surprised if your "change" is reversed or deleted by another user if you fail to justify what you did. 

As it turns out, this process of verifying the information and adding sources is fundamental to adding new people to the Family Tree that are validly qualified for ordinances. If you make a change simply because what you have in your file is different than what is already in the Family Tree, you are being irresponsible and unethical. But what if the information already in the Family Tree has no sources? The answer to that question is simple, unless you have a valid source supporting your own data, you have no business changing what is already in the Family Tree.

How do I go about finding new people to add to the Family Tree? The most efficient way is to examine the entries in the Family Tree for completeness, consistency and believability and then add sources for every individual. It is not the "source" that matters, it is the valid content of the source that has been properly evaluated that matters. As I have said in the past, by adding sources you will inevitably find people who have not been in the Family Tree previously. At the same time, you will be assisting in the process of cleaning up the Family Tree and verifying the existing entries. 


  1. Totally agree. And since we have the Source Hints showing up which, I am finding, are about 98% accurate for the person they are pointing to, it is soooo easy to add sources, at least through the 1800s in America. I can add tons of new persons to FT by attaching sources. It is really fun! I think this process is totally changing the nature of Family Tree, and as more and more sources get purchased, borrowed, and then digitized, we may even be pushing more easily across the pond, adding more and more new records. Quite exciting.

  2. "Why are individuals either in or not in the Family Tree?" Is there a third option?

    1. Not really. Family Tree theoretically has a location for every person who ever lived on the earth.