Launched as a Facebook.com app in 2011 and then limited to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Relative Finder program has not only moved onstage, it has moved to center stage. The program was initially developed by Professor Thomas W. Sederberg a computer science professor at Brigham Young University about 15 years ago. Full development of the program and its ultimate certification by FamilySearch involved Professor William A. Barrett, another computer science professor and a group of undergraduate computer science students at the BYU Family History Technology Lab.
The idea behind the program is simple but the execution is quite complex. The program examines up to 14 generations of your ancestors on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program and calculates a chart showing your relatives and their degree of relationship. The explanation of how the program finds your relatives is as follows and is taken from the Frequently Asked Questions section of the program:
Q1. How does Relative Finder find relatives?
A. When you join Relative Finder or update your tree in Relative Finder, it downloads and stores 14 generations of your family tree from FamilySearch. Relative Finder also periodically downloads 14 generations for each person in the public groups. Each person in FamilySearch is assigned a PID (an 8-character string of the form K3Y4-BCD). If Bill is logged in to Relative Finder and he wants to see how he is related to Mary, RelativeFinder compares the PID for each person in his tree to the PID in each person in Mary's tree. If the same PID is found in both trees, the person with that PID is called a common ancestor, meaning an ancestor of both Bill and Mary. If Bill and Mary have one common ancestor, they will usually have many common ancestors; for example, the parents of a common ancestor will also be common ancestors of Bill and Mary. A Nearest Common Ancestor (or, NCA) between Bill and Mary is a common ancestor for whom none of their children is an ancestor of both Bill and Mary. Relative Finder reports a NCA for which no other s are more closely related to Mary.There is a basic limitation of the accuracy of the program, again noted in detail by the Frequently Asked Questions:
Q4. Why are wrong relationships showing up between famous people and me?
A. The main reason for this is that the data in FamilySearch is not always correct. So, if you know you are descended from a famous person, but Relative Finder does not report that relationship, it may be that the correct connections are not recorded in FamilySearch. Additionally, FamilySearch data is constantly changing as users add information. It is common for a single deceased person to appear multiple times in FamilySearch, and each of those records has its own PID. Relative Finder only stores one PID per person and if your ancestor has more than one version in FamilySearch it is possible that the PID that we have stored may be different than the PID in your FamilySearch tree. Furthermore, if a user merges two records, only one PID is assigned to the resulting individual. Relative Finder does not update its list of famous people very often, so it can happen that the PID that Relative Finder is storing for a given person may have been replaced by a different PID for that person, thereby introducing errors into the relationship report. We are hoping to refresh the PIDs for famous people each month, but it is a time consuming process and we have other priorities.Essentially, as the FAQs also explain, the occurrence of errors in Relative Finder is an open invitation to correct the information in the Family Tree program.
When I enter by login and password into the Relative Finder the program comes up with 12,845 ancestors from 43 generations. Here is a screenshot of the first of 195 pages of relatives:
Obviously, there will likely be a huge difference in the number of relatives the program will find dependent on the amount of information there is in the Family Tree about your particular family.
There is one interesting fact in the FAQs that I took notice of. Here is the quote:
Q7. Why am I not getting any results when checking for relatives?
A. Check FamilySearch to verify that you are connected to your parents and grandparents. 90% of people with FamilySearch accounts are not connected to all four grandparents. Generally you need at least 1000 ancestors in FamilySearch before many relatives appear in Relative Finder. Also, some geographical regions are less likely to yield many relatives.This suggests to me that the real challenge of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is getting more users to add in their grandparents.
One interesting feature of the program is to create a group. We have learned that Wards have created a Relative Finder Group for an activity and have "discovered" unknown relatives. I am not quite sure what I am going to do with thousands of more relatives, but it is interesting.
Relative Finder is set up with a number of predesigned groups for the users to select. Here is a screenshot showing the groups:
I suggest signing into the program and playing around with it for a while. It is amazing who you might be related to, but until you are sure that Family Tree is accurate, I wouldn't count on the relationships to heavily.