Tuesday, November 15, 2016
The "I am right and everyone else is wrong" issue in the FamilySearch Family Tree
Lately, I have been seeing a very disturbing trend among the contributors to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. This trend usually manifests itself in the form of complaints and rants against the nature of the changing nature of the Family Tree when the changes are directed at the complainant's cherished genealogical conclusions. I am calling this tendency the "I am right and everyone else is wrong" syndrome.
Of course, the person who is ranting about the changes may be right. But the rants and comments usually end up with frustration being directed at the Family Tree. First of all, the Family Tree is not the problem, it is the solution. The real issue here is that genealogists are not used to the idea of conducting their "business" in public. They cherish their solitude and the fact that no one is around to tell them that their conclusions are wrong. There are genealogists who venture into the traditional genealogical forum of journal articles and such but these individuals stick to their own small groups and the validity of the conclusions are seldom questioned because the claimant follows the accepted format and procedures for establishing their opinion (usually referred to as a proof). I might add that most genealogists are entirely unaware that this level of communication exists. Also, those writing at this level seldom encounter disagreement with their conclusions for the simple reason that their general family members or relatives have no idea their written statement exists.
I feel I should give one simple example. If you are or claim to be a descendant of one or more of the passengers on the Mayflower have you examined in detail the conclusions and citations given in the series of books referred to as the "Silver Books?" If this term is not familiar to you, you are not alone, but you are also one of those who are unaware of the "higher criticism" level of genealogy.
Just in case you want to know, here is a link to the Silver Books: https://www.themayflowersociety.org/shop/books-publications/silver-books-and-mfip
Now, we move to the very public forum of the Family Tree. What is happening here is that these traditionally isolated genealogists are now confronted with the masses of their previously ignored relatives. This situation is confrontational because all of the opinions, right or wrong, from all of the previous submissions to the predecessors of FamilySearch are right there on the Family Tree. For example, here is a screenshot of part of my own Tanner line as it appears on the Family Tree.
The person who appears here as William Francis Tanner, Sr. is the English immigrant to Rhode Island who name is William Tanner. Despite the embellishment of his name and his birth place and is marriage information and his parentage, all of this is entirely and completely speculation and unsupported by even one document. Personally, I am not yet ready to "take on" this mess. I am still trying to work back to this point through other Tanner descendants. But this is an example of the battleground where there are contributors who are "right" and the rest of the world is "wrong."
The explanations given by these people who express their frustration with the Family Tree are usually very detailed and very complicated. This is not to say that they are wrong, but communicating at this level of complication is difficult especially when you do not know who you are communicating with. The Family Tree is actually a very good forum for this type of communication. But rather than join in a discussion, the claimants usually vent their anger and refuse to work with the Family Tree at all.
I suggest that the Family Tree is not for the faint hearted or those easily offended. Change is a fundamental aspect of the Family Tree and its strongest virtue. There will always be new adherents who try to add unsupported changes. I just recently had someone add a duplicate female version of one of my ancestors who is shown with a wife and several children. This type of change happens because the Family Tree is an open forum. But it these changes are not a basis for ranting or abandoning the Family Tree. In my case, I merely sent a notice to the person asking them to remove the duplicate non-existent person. If that fails to happen I will make the further change myself.
The existence of these types of problems are a great benefit not a problem. We are now moving from isolation to interaction. This may be a painful process for some, but as Harry Truman is reported to have said, "If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen." I would suggest that another of President Truman's sayings is also applicable, "The buck stops here." For me, the buck really does stop here. Until I can no longer do so, I will be working to maintain the integrity of the Family Tree. There, now you have notice of what to expect and guess what? I am not always right, there is an awful lot of room in the Family Tree for learning new things about my family so I expect your corrections and contributions also.