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

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The FamilySearch Family Tree -- A Review and Retrospective -- Part Two

Here is the previous installment of this series. This really is a continuation of the previous post so you might want to read it to understand what I am saying. Thanks.

So now we have the Family Tree. But we also still have the legacy, like a ghost from the past, of all of the limitations and data problems inherited from (NFS). Meanwhile, the initially bare-bones Family Tree program introduced back in 2012 has evolved into the very sophisticated, usable but somewhat complex program.

From my perspective as a user with a huge collection of ready-made ancestors, at first, the program was a nightmare. Obvious duplicates existed in every generation and the amount of incorrect data was staggering. In addition, the program never seemed to stand still long enough for me to get a handle on what we could and could not do. Through all of this the program still showed tremendous promise. It was the solution, not the problem.

The data problem has two very difficult aspects. The first is what I have already written about in the previous post: the extensive duplication of entries. The second and seemingly insurmountable problem was the lack of sources and the concomitant unreliability of the entries. Even though these were and to some extent, still are the most challenging issues, most of the complaints from users centered around the seemingly arbitrary changes coming from other users and from FamilySearch. Most of these complaints came from a lack of understanding of how the program functions. The program was designed to change. As a result, working on the Family Tree was similar to trying to live in a house that was still being built.

The changes that still appear with FamilySearch as the contributor indicate that there is still data left in the program or in other programs or databases that need to be transferred into the Family Tree. There is also an indication that there is ongoing involvement with the Church Membership since I keep seeing notices of changes made by that entity.

Earlier this year, I noted that the Family Tree had made a transition. My impression was that the program had solidified and was stable enough that major additions and research could be conducted using the structure of the program. With the help of some of my daughters, we began an intense examination of some of the end of line issues. After spending considerable time correcting the entries by adding in sources, we restructured some of the families and began adding new people to the Family Tree. Some of the most useful additions to the Family Tree turned out to be the Record Hints and the links to the FamilySearch Partner websites. Most of the work we were doing is in English Parish records and so the link to was especially useful. We still had to do a major amount of work with microfilms and other records, but the Family Tree was stable.

We have had a few instances of people adding inappropriate records, changing existing records for the purpose of re-doing the Temple work and other such nuisance activities, but with the Watch records capability, we have been able to maintain the integrity of the data without too many problems. When sources have been deleted without explanation, we have been able to use the Restore function to regain lost ground. Contacting those who have entered incorrect and unsubstantiated data has not been particularly fruitful. If the changes are particularly egregious it seems that those entering the data are clueless about the effect of their activities.

I have been finding that the accuracy of the data, once I get back more than six generations, is marginal and any supporting sources seem to disappear. But as we work we do see more and more sources being added. I find that when there are a number of sources listed, it is best to examine them all carefully because I find that many pertain to the wrong family. This can happen with the common names in English parish records when the places are not consistent. It is not unusual to see a family added from over 100 miles away in the early 1700s and even the 1600s. We are examining all of the data and plotting the locations on maps and find that the families cluster within a relatively small area.

In short, the Family Tree is now in partial working order. I am still painfully aware that the process of adding information from has not concluded. I am guessing that no one, not even FamilySearch will know when the job is finally finished. As long as I have obvious duplicates that cannot be merged at this time, I will know that the task has not ended. The main reason we have been able to make headway, even though the changes are still being generated, is that we have been working on lines that have received less attention in the past and therefore are more stable. Once corrections are made they have a tendency to stick.

We are very happy when someone adds some new data that is substantiated by sources. This helps us to see that the Family Tree can really be collaborative rather than merely pesky.

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