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

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Issue of Accuracy in the FamilySearch Family Tree

Accuracy and consistency seem to be basic virtues, but both have become major issues with regard to online family trees and particularly in discussions of the Family Tree. The collaborative and unified nature of the Family Tree immerses the users in situation where differences are magnified and some level of disagreement is inevitable.

Apparently, many users of the Family Tree become upset when the entries by others do not measure up to their particular level of understanding how things ought to be done. They apparently take offense where none is intended and where there is no real issue other than the time it takes to correct or update an entry. I suggest that they spend their time correcting the entries and less time fussing about the apparent failings of the Family Tree.

Some of the observed inconsistencies and "errors" come from the fact that the Family Tree is an accumulation of over a hundred years of contributions, most of which have not been verified. None of these entries should be accepted on their face without verification. Traditionally assumed relationships are suspect and any unverified entry i.e. without a source, is tentative until sources are provided. Replacing and unverified or unsourced entry with another unverified or unsourced record is just plain silly and serves no purpose in advancing the accuracy of the Family Tree. It is also important to realize that the process of adding all of the information into the Family Tree is not complete. As of the date of this post, the connection still exists with the program and that limitation is still limiting the accuracy and completeness of the program.

The reality of the Family Tree is the any user can add, correct, update, and in some limited cases, delete information from the Family Tree. When you see information in the Family Tree that you feel is incorrect, inappropriate or incomplete, you are the one who should be making the corrections with proper citations to sources that support your corrections.

There are different layers of issues that can arise with any of the entries in the Family Tree. Here are some examples of the type of problems that exist. In every case, I suggest that it is appropriate to "correct" the information only if you have sources or general rules of the format of the Family Tree to support your changes.

Example #1

One very obvious indication of the multiple submissions that are evident in the Family Tree is the common occurrence of one or more (even a long list) of "Birth Name" entries. The birth name should be shown in the Vital Information section as the primary name of the individual. This should be the form of the name found in the earliest record about that individual. If there are different forms of the name in different records, then they can be shown, with proper citation to a source, as "Alternate Names." The existence of these "Birth Name" entries indicates that there have been multiple submissions of this individual and that there may well be duplicates and even unresolvable duplicates. When I see a long list of "Birth Name" entries, I know that whoever has been working on this line, does not yet understand the significance of these entries and has not taken the time to delete those that are not alternative names.

There has been some small controversy over deleting these names with some claiming that deleting these entries affects Temple ordinance information available for the individual. These are two different issues although they are related. As I indicated, the existence of multiple "Birth Names" is a positive indicator that duplicates of the individual exist whether or not the program can presently find those duplicates. The ordinance issue relates to the possibility of duplicates and that issue will not be totally resolved until the transition from is completed.

Example #2

This particular person has no sources attached. The entry here shows the birth places as "Carlisle,Nchls,Ky." This is an indication that nothing has been done with this entry. The format of the place name indicates that the information came directly from an old Family Group Record when the place fields were limited and abbreviations were encouraged. No one has either corrected the place name or provided any substantiation for the information as it appears in the Family Tree. The entry is inherently unreliable. The format was acceptable when it was submitted years ago, but the lack of editing or contributing on the Family Tree indicates that this particular person and perhaps the whole family, have been neglected so far. The entry may very well be inaccurate and incorrect. There is research needed.

Example #3

This is another example of the inherited issues from years of submissions. There are no sources listed in these entries and the confusion about the wife and use of the "Mrs." designation indicate inherited entries that have yet to be examined.

Example #4

This is a very common error. The marriage and birth dates do not agree. It is very likely that this is either the wrong person or that the dates have recorded incorrectly. In this case, there are some sources attached but the marriage record shows a marriage in Stafford County, England but neither record gives a birth date for the mother, Ann Hambleton. Another issue with needing more research.

I could go on and on with examples, but the point is that these entries are unreliable and incorrect. Adding more unreliable and incorrect data to these lines is not helpful. But rather than stress or worry about incorrect data, we should be spending our time correcting all that we can and doing extensive research.

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