Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Why Use the FamilySearch Family Tree
There is a considerable amount of discussion among those involved in family history (genealogy) about how to record and store the information discovered about your family. One of the questions I am most commonly asked is "What genealogy program do you use?" I have written about selecting a genealogy database program a number of times, but it is still a frequently raised topic.
If you have read any of my blog posts over the past few years, you probably realize that I am very opinionated on certain subjects (that is probably one of the most understated things I have written lately). But I do try to temper my opinions when I can see a variety of different viewpoints. In this post, I want to explore the idea of using the FamilySearch.org Family Tree as a primary database. Before going too far with that idea, I want to point out that I also have family tree information on several other programs including desktop, standalone programs and online database programs such as MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, and Findmypast.com. There are a huge number of obvious advantages to having family trees in each of these programs. My comments here are not directed at any "either or" type situations. I can see a number of very persuasive arguments for having a closed, controlled copy of your data to augment any of the entries you have on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. But I am also getting consistent feedback from people who, for a variety of reasons, refuse to consider using the Family Tree at all.
To start out, the Family Tree is free. There are no paid upgrade options or hidden charges. Free does not always equate with adequate or the best possible option. I do not intend to get into a feature by feature comparison of the different programs. That is one reason why I have my data on more than one program: to take advantage of the options available on the different programs. Next, the Family Tree is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and FamilySearch is a non-profit company. I have nothing against making a profit or paying for genealogical services, but I do think in terms of permanence and accessibility. If I were to die and all my data was on a paid, subscription program, my heirs would either have to copy everything down or pay to continue the subscription. In either case, there is a substantial possibility that the data would be lost. Having the bulk of my data on FamilySearch mitigates that issue.
Both of those reasons are somewhat superficial and may even be trivial, but I consider the preservability of the data as one of the main issues in choosing where and how to store what I do to be a fundamental consideration.
One of the first and most common objections to the Family Tree is its most important feature; the idea that all of the users of the program can edit, change, modify or add to the existing data. The collaboration aspect of the Family Tree is one of its most repellent or appealing features depending on your point of view. The Family Tree is basically a wiki and I have been living in the wiki world now for many years and appreciate the power of wikis to accumulate large amounts of accurate information. It may appear that the Family Tree is somewhat chaotic, but over time, it has proved to be more and more accurate and organized.
Another good reason to use the Family Tree is because it is connected to a huge, online database of original source documents in the FamilySearch.org Historical Record Collections. There are differing opinions about the efficacy of the search engine, but my experience is that it is getting better all the time and having an instant connection to Record Hints and data searches is a great advantage. Of course, that is also one of the reasons I maintain family trees on the other programs such as MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, and Findmypast.com; to take advantage of their record hints. Direct searches in these programs are not as effective as their record hints. Some researchers may be overwhelmed with the prospect of having separate copies of their ancestry on different programs, but ignoring the spectacular advances made by these companies over the past few years is a big mistake.
To summarize, I think the Family Tree will be around for a long time and permanence is my most important criteria. At the same time, free doesn't hurt and the added bonus of record hints and searches directly from the Family Tree are also helpful. Even if you don't want to use the Family Tree as a primary database, you should not be ignoring the vast resources of the FamilySearch.org program.