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

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Plumbing the Depths of FamilySearch Family Tree

The past week or so has been a challenge in maintaining an understanding of what is going on in's Family Tree program. There has been a fair amount of discussion over the issue of the mysterious appearance of Alternative Names, but I got a telephone call about an even more challenging issue. Here is the message that appeared:

The record referred to in the message is this one:

There are a number of things wrong with the entry for this person as shown by his Descendancy View"

The red exclamation point icons indicate that the birth year for the mother, Nancy Denham born in 1803 is after the listed marriage year of 1800. The child, Rebecca Gilpin, was also born before her mother, Nancy Denham Gilpin.

Aside from those problems, there are some other more serious issues (if the issues can get more serious) when we look at the message concerning the IGI (International Genealogical Index) extraction issue. Clicking on the link that says "Learn More" takes us to the following Help Center document:

The link to this article is

Most of the article deals with the issue of incorrectly combined or merged individuals. I looked through the history for Ignatious Gilpin and did not see any evidence that his record had been combined or merged. However, there is nothing in the record to indicate that a wrong combination was not done previously in It also appears that the source for the marriage, from the IGI, is attached to the correct person. If this is the case, then the dates for his wife, Nancy Denham Gilpin, must be wrong.

There is a note in the rather long Help Center article that says:
Note: Begin by researching and gathering as many facts as possible for each person. Identify which facts belong to the person represented in your family tree and which should be moved to another record. It is better to do the research and not guess before making changes.
This is good advice at any time. The issue of the wrongly combined or merged record is corrected as follows:
An Incorrect Merge Is Corrected by Undoing the Merge in Family Tree or Creating a New Record for the Other Person.
  • To determine where a bad merge occurred, a user can examine the Latest Changes on the right side of the person's Details page. Click Show All Changes. The changes resulting from a merge are marked with a green box.
  • See Undoing a merge (72004) and Restoring a record that was deleted after a merge (71934).
  • This process will only be used if the bad merge occurred in Family Tree. If the merge is not shown in the Latest Changes, this indicates the records were incorrectly combined in
If you determine that the records were incorrectly combined in, it will require the creation of a new person, unless someone else has already created a new record.
By this point, it seems clear that very few Family Tree users are going to be able to identify or rectify this type of problem. Trying to untangle this family, for example, is a major operation. The instructions in the Help Center article go on to explain the multi-step operation involved in cleaning up this entry.

Here is another quote from same article with even more interesting information:
Incorrectly combined records from, Ancestral File, and so forth
Ancestral File was a database that listed the names and vital information of millions of individuals, organized into pedigrees. The information was taken from pedigree charts and family group records submitted to the Family History Department beginning in 1978. When the database for was created, submissions from Ancestral File were sometimes incorrectly combined with each other or with new submissions in to create a single record for two similar but distinct persons. In, users could separate combined records, but the Separate feature seldom corrected all of the errors. In fact, sometimes it caused more errors. Consequently, has been turned off and is no longer available. Unfortunately, the incorrectly combined records from are displayed in Family Tree.
Here is the crux of the whole article in this next statement to members:
FamilySearch is working on, but has not yet released, a tool for FamilySearch Support to move ordinances from one ID Number to another. The coming tool allows FamilySearch Support to see the information that was present when the ordinance was performed.

Regarding the concern about the duplication of ordinances, patrons can reserve the ordinances and hold them in the reservation list until the new tool is available to move the ordinances over. When FamilySearch Support moves an ordinance over, it should drop from the reservation list.
This last statement is interesting in light of the notice from FamilySearch about releasing names from the Reserved Lists.

I am not, even now, sure what all this means other than rectifying the obvious errors in this particular entry are going to be very complicated and may result in a loss of the ordinance information. If you run across this message, be sure to read through and follow the instructions from the Help Center how ever they are currently shown.


  1. If I may offer an important correction. The yellow triangle is NOT an error message. It is an important notification and means exactly what it says. When the New Family Search database was created there was an IGI record for Mr. Gilpin which was imported in. The IGI record is the one you show in the second illustration which the source links to.

    On the day New Family Search opened, there was a NFS record that contained only the information in the IGI source, clean and pristine, with only his name, his wife's name, their marriage date, and marriage place.

    Then someone did a merge in New Family Search and things went downhill from there.

    1. The notice may not have technically been an "error message" but the Learn more" link certainly treats it like one with its extensive solutions to the problems.

    2. The "Learn More" link is only to give advice on how to fix the incorrect merges in New Family Search that are still plaguing Family Tree if that is a problem for any one particular record.

      Every single IGI record that was used to create records in NFS is getting the IGI source automatically attached with the yellow box message explaining why the source is being attached. I'm sure the vast majority of these sources are going onto records in Family Tree which do not have any problems at all. I am seeing many of these source going onto people I am working on and it is saving a lot of time because I do not have to find them in the historical record databases or, if they would have been in the hint box, attach them from there.

      In the cases where the sources show problems from old incorrect merges, they are being very useful in correcting families. For example, I have seen people with three of these new IGI sources that correspond very nicely with their three sets of vastly different parents.

      You can see an example of one of these IGI records imported into New Family Search and then Family Tree which has never been touched by anyone and now has the corresponding IGI source attached here:

    3. Thank you so much for this further explanation. This is a very complicated area of the Family Tree and your insights are extremely valuable. Thanks again for your comments.

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