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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Let's look carefully at the entries on the FamilySearch Family Tree

I have spent the last week embroiled in issues about the entries in the Family Tree. Part of the challenges included three children listed in a family who were born about fifty years after the listed father died. These types of entries seem to occur as the Family Tree pedigrees extend back into the mid to early 1800s and become common during the 1700s and earlier. Let me walk through an analysis of a string of entries and show some of the problems that exist. I can do this by going to any one of my ancestral lines as are presently (2015) constituted in the Family Tree.

Before starting, I might point out that the Family Tree is a conglomeration of contributions submitted for over a hundred years by thousands of people. No one has reviewed the entries for accuracy until the entries were all accumulated and made available online beginning with the program. There are episodes of lucidity in the Family Tree, primarily with more recent entries (i.e. after 1900) and for families where there have been only a very few submissions, but most of the "old line submissions" have serious errors.

For the past few years there have been attempts to characterize these issues as applying to only a "small percentage" of the overall users. That characterization obscures the fact that the names in the Family Tree that date back into the time periods that are congested with problems come from a relatively small number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The historic population of the Church was small and so only a smaller number of submissions from these early members constitutes the bulk of the names from older research. Newer members of the Church "inherit" these previously submitted names when they "tie in" to families in the Family Tree. So a brand new member of the Church may end up with a long line of ancestors in the Family Tree by virtue of being distantly related to a legacy member.

Over the past few years, I have remarked about the small percentage of members of the Church who are actively involved in submitting names for Temple ordinances. Most recently, an article in the Church News for the week of December 27, 2015 entitled, "Improving observance:'increasing faith in God, Jesus Christ" gave a figure of about 420,000 members who submitted names during "this past year." I assume this to be for the time period extending back into 2014. Given the total population of the Church of 15,372,337 given at April General Conference in 2015, that means that the percentage of members submitting is about 2.7%. This means that any ancestral lines in the Family Tree are still concentrated in a relatively small group of people.

But the issues I see and have to deal with on almost a daily basis from patrons, friends and family members extend past the IOUS (Individuals of Unusual Size) or legacy members of the Church. The issue here is accuracy plain and simple.

Now to the illustration. Once again, I will pick a random family line from the Family Tree. This time I will start with a direct line ancestor by the name of William Stewart, b. 1742 in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland and d. 5 August 1826 in Greenwich, Washington, New York, United States. Mind you, this is what is currently in the Family Tree. I have no real idea of the accuracy of this information but the information I have in my own records is vastly different. I have him born in Bolton, Warren, New York. In my records, William Stewart (a very common name) was the "end" of that particular line, but on the Family Tree, the line now extends back an additional six or seven generations. If you want to follow along, you can see William at ID #LZBC-JLP.

Now to William Stewart. The sources listed in the Family Tree are the following:

There are two birth records. Hmm. One of these shows a birth in Lunenburg, Worchester, Massachusetts and one shows a birth in Perth, Perth, Scotland. They cannot both be correct. The burial record is for William and his wife Amy.

Obviously, there is an issue here. How many people are named William Stewart in New York in the time period involved? If I do a search in the digitized records on, I get the following using different birth places:

William Stewart born in New York in 1742 = 475
William Stewart born in Massachusetts in 1742 = 278
William Stewart born in Scotland in 1742 = 3,417

Hmm, looks like I have a lot of choices. The point here is that the family line which I have ending with William Stewart is now connected to a family in Scotland and extended back generations. Is this correct? Where is the information showing that William Stewart is the same person that is shown from Scotland? If William Stewart was born in either New York or Massachusetts, then he is obviously not the same person listed as born in Scotland.

I have, at least, 64 grandparents in the same generation as William Stewart and guess what? Most of them have the exact same issues. Isn't it about time we looked more carefully at the entries in the Family Tree and start documenting and correcting the entries?


  1. Excellent post! This is exactly the message that needs to get out there! Now, if we could just get FS to start actively promoting this concept and reaching out to the committed and experienced genealogists to get the job done.

  2. I have started seeing many, many incorrect Source Linker Hints for my Welsh ancestors from the recently indexed 1891 Wale and England Census. As you say, there are so many in the British Isles with the same name and in approximately the same place, and time. So I have had to look to relationships a lot more. When the children are born in America before 1891, then the choice to select Not a Match is easy. But I have found that folks are just attaching (wildly) these Hints posted on a person's page as if they were golden plates. We need to be more thoughtful and careful.