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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

And If We Die... Death and the FamilySearch Family Tree

The most common shorthand way of referring to an ancestor or other deceased person is to indicate a birth and death date. For example, this is the death and burial information for Thomas Parkinson (b. 1830, d. 1906). The short citation of his birth and death helps to identify him from any other Thomas Parkinson that happens to be floating around out there in the genealogical community. Obviously, we need a lot more information to adequately document him or any other individual.

One complicating factor of the Family Tree is the existence of a "Private Space." Quoting from the Help Center article, "Understanding Private Spaces:"
  • Each user of Family Tree has a private space. Private spaces help protect privacy and allow users to enter information for living family members. See How Family Tree displays living people (71969) and Visibility of living people on Family Tree (55036).
  • A Family Tree person in a private space will have a yellow banner at the top of the person page, including:
  • Private Person
  • Living and confidential people are managed in a private space. Only you will be able to see and modify this person. However, anyone could potentially see the photos, documents, and stories that are attached to this person.
  • All living people and relationships are stored in a private space.
  • Currently, private spaces cannot be shared.
  • Each owner of a living record for a person can modify information independently from others.
  • Deceased persons should each be represented only one time in Family Tree and have a common ID except for confidential records.
  • A living person can be represented in multiple private spaces as a different Family Tree person, and each instance has a different ID.
These general rules are further modified by some specific provisions for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These specific provisions can be read in the same article linked above, "Understanding Private Spaces."

Essentially, any information added to a living person is contained and only visible in a Private Space of the person entering that information. Living people in the Family Tree included in your own Private Space are duplicates with their own ID number. Members of a living person's family may create one or more copies of that living person, none of which are visible to any of the others. So if I enter a living relative, say my parents or grandparents into my portion of the Family Tree, I am the only person who can see those duplicate entries, assuming the living people are members of the Church and already have their own information in the Family Tree.

What happens to all those duplicate copies of living individuals when that person dies? That is the real issue with the Family Tree and dead people. As the users enter death dates for those previously living duplicate people, the duplicates then become visible. In addition, through the Ward Clerks in the church, the death may also be recorded in the official Church records and another duplicate, the official Church Membership duplicate of the person is created. The users, i.e. relatives, of the newly deceased person now need to merge these extra duplicates.

This process is outlined in more detail in another Help Center article entitled, "Membership record of a deceased individual has missing or incorrect information" and other linked articles.

We have had to work through this process recently and know that it is difficult for members to understand. If you are confronted with this situation, please take the time to study and read these and the the other linked articles on this subject.

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