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

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Examine Your FamilySearch Family Tree Entries

Is accuracy important in our work of seeking out our ancestors? I might think that this is an entirely rhetorical question, but what I have read and heard recently gives me pause to consider that the question might be real, at least to some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is, however, no equivocation in the messages being sent from the leaders of the Church and the official publications including the scriptures. Here is a quote from the Introduction to Family History Student Manual on This particular quote is from the teachings of Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952)
Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952) taught that the keeping of accurate records serves a divine purpose and was affirmed by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Towards the end of Joseph’s life, a series of instructions were given the Prophet relative to the necessity of keeping records. It is on the basis of this revelation that the careful system of records is being followed in the temples. Every person is accounted for, huge volumes are stored, for the Latter-day Saints believe literally that out of the books men shall be judged. The Lord may have other means of knowing, but it is the right and orderly way for us” (The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants, ed. G. Homer Durham [1969], 161).
The practice of keeping accurate records increases the efficiency and accuracy of family history work. This begins with you in your own family history efforts.
One saying that was passed down to me from my own ancestors is this: "Anything worth doing is worth doing right." With respect to researching our family history, I think this saying applies to the work we do in assuring that the entries we put into the Family Tree should be as complete and accurate as possible. Historical research can only be as accurate as the available source records, but many of the entries in the Family Tree are without sources and have apparently never been even superficially examined for accuracy. This fact is now obvious because of the various icons that have been added to the program to warn about the need for more research and to notify users of data problems. Here is a screenshot of the various icons being used with the Family Tree program. This link is on the right side of the screen in the menu bar.

If you explore the information about your own family on the Family Tree, it will not take you long to find some of the red Data Problem icons. Here is an example.

In this case, the two warning messages are as follows:

But in many cases, the errors and omissions are much more subtle and harder to detect and the program does not find them. Some of these not-so-obvious errors can result in the user pursuing an unrelated family line when the error shows the wrong family line in the Family Tree.

This Morgan line above is an example of that issue. The individual Jacob Morgan (b. 1723, d. 1780) cannot be the father of the person shown as John Morgan (b. 1734, Deceased). If he were, he would have been only 11 years old when his first child was born.

The argument I have been hearing lately is that as long as the entries are in the Family Tree, the program shows the people's relationships and we know that the person existed and so it is entirely proper to do the Temple work because that degree of accuracy is not necessary. Following that line of reasoning, I could certainly go ahead and do the Temple work for the next generation of people attached to Jacob Morgan and in fact, there is a green Temple icon showing the availability of work to be done.

Am I related to Capt. Richard Morgan (b. 1700, d. 1763)? It is highly unlikely that I am. If I were following the rules for doing Temple ordinances, I would not be justified in doing the work for someone to whom I was not related. See the following from the Help Center article entitled, "Doing temple work for names gathered from a film or book:"
Names of nonrelated persons should not be submitted, including names of celebrities or famous people, or those gathered from unapproved extraction projects, such as Jewish Holocaust victims. For further information, see Handbook 2: Administering the Church [2010], 5.4.
Until I do some research and determine whether or not this person is a related to me, I should not be doing the Temple work. In this particular case, the Family Tree program will not allow the work to be done without further action. In this case resolution of possible duplicates.

If we examine the record for this person named "Capt. Richard Morgan" in the Family Tree, we will find that there is really no information at all.

Further, there are no sources listed for the approximate information given. But there is a possible duplicate.

Should I merge these two individuals merely because they have the same name when one of the entries is based on an estimate of when the person lived? As I keep going with this particular entry, I find that the information supplied when comparing the two individuals is inconclusive. But wait! I need to go back and determine if I am even related to either of the possible people.

Just for a note, I am really still doing research back with the family line several generations before these people are shown. Is it important that I do accurate research and determine the correct family lines? Here I am back to the first question in this blog post. I suppose each of us has to answer these questions for ourselves.  But as for me, I am going to follow my ancestral admonition: "Anything worth doing is worth doing right."


  1. Brother Tanner,
    Every day in the temples people perform ordinances for people they do not know and have not researched. As an ordinance worker, I often ponder how the temple gets some of the names I see. There are people with only a first name and no surname, there people who are called Mrs. John Somebody, etc. I agreed we should do research on our lines, but shouldn't the temple names be done with the same amount of research? What would researching the temple names do to the progress of the work. I think it would slow considerably. Just a thought.

    1. The names used in the Temples can only come either from members who submit the names by putting them in the Family Tree or from a name extraction program.