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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Preserving your entries in the FamilySearch Family Tree

I guess my British heritage is coming out. To quote Sir Winston Churchhill, in part,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender...
One of the most discussed topics about the Family Tree is the basic function of a wiki-based program to change. Anyone who is registered can add, correct, modify or delete information from a wiki and hence those types of changes appear regularly in the FamilySearch.or Family Tree. Is this really a problem? I guess the answer is yes and no. Obviously, some changes are good and beneficial. Adding sources and correcting inaccurate information is good. Making changes that deletes correct information or adding inaccurate information is bad.

It is certain that we will get into situations where there is a disagreement over what should or what should not be included in the Family Tree. Recently, FamilySearch added a note on any change made informing the person making the change of the number of people watching. All of these people will be notified of any changes. Here is an example of such a notice.

If you are making changes to the Family Tree, you might expect to be contacted by one or more of these people. This is especially true if you give no reasons for you changes and add unsourced information. You may run into people who know a lot more about the person you are trying to change than you do. But key to this feature is that those who do know about the person and want to maintain the integrity of the Family Tree should be watching there ancestors and relatives.

Central to this issue is the ability to return improperly deleted information to the Family Tree. There is a currently a debate about the need to maintain a separate program with "your" version of the information. This may or may not be beneficial depending on the accuracy of your own research. We all have a tendency to believe we are right and everyone else is wrong, but in genealogical research, all conclusions are tentative based on the availability of historical documents. Some of our most cherished conclusions may be exactly wrong and shown to be so when additional documents are discovered. We need to be open to addition research and different conclusions.

But what about changes that are simply unfounded and incorrect? Yes, they are a bother. But the idea behind having a wiki-based program is that the most correct information will win out in the end. But it will only do so if we are willing to "join in the battle" as it were. Here are a few suggested rules for maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree:

  1. Don't remove information unless you know it is inaccurate or does not apply to the person to whom it is attached and always provide a source for any newly added information
  2. Be consistent in explaining why you are making a change, if a change is appropriate
  3. Do not "clean up" the entries unless it is necessary for clarification or to standardize dates and places or to correct spelling, capitalization or other such issues
  4. If you make a large number of changes to a person in the Family Tree, be sure the changes are all needed and necessary
  5. Be aware that if someone is watching a person in the Family Tree that you may hear from them about any changes you make
There are probably a few more such rules that would be helpful, but the point is that some of us take the Family Tree seriously and will work to maintain its integrity. I you suddenly decide to make changes and have never made any such changes before, you might want to be doubly cautious. 

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