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

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Suggested Checklist Before Adding to Existing Entries in the FamilySearch Family Tree

Lately, a number of people have been adding family members to my direct line entries in the Family Tree without adding any supporting sources and without bothering to read or review any of the existing sources, comments, life sketches, or Memories. This is nothing I can't handle. In fact, my daughter and I have developed several "standard" responses stored in a Google Docs file that we can copy and paste into the comments sections when we remove the unsupported and in almost all cases, totally inaccurate additions.

But the experience of constantly reviewing the entries is bothersome and annoying. If you are interested in the details, you can read my previous posts on "Finding Francis." Consequently, I decided to outline a suggested checklist of steps everyone should take before adding information to an existing entry in the Family Tree. You may think this is presumptuous of me to even think that someone might have to do anything before adding what they "know" to be absolutely correct information, but my personal experience compels me to attempt the project. 

Here we go.

Step No. 1
Starting with yourself, become familiar with your own family lines. Read the entries. Look at the sources. Review any Memories attached to the individuals.

This might seem to be a simple step but there are far too many people who jump into the Family Tree back where the lines end in blanks and start there to do some "research" to fill in the blanks. Those blanks in the Family Tree signify where researchers have been unable to find the next generation for over 100 years. In addition, just because there are generations and generations of people in a particular line does not mean any of those entries are correct or actually related to you or your family. In reviewing part of the Family Tree for a patron at a local Family History Center last night, I quickly determined that the people listed just two or three generations back were unsupported by adequate sources and lacked any credibility. However, I had neither the time nor the inclination to correct the entries since the corrections would involve some serious research over a long period of time. Unfortunately, I was limited to advising the patron that there was "some work that needed to be done to verify the entries."

One corollary to this step is that when there are no supporting sources for the information in the Family Tree, the information has to be assumed to be incorrect, incomplete or imaginary. The crucial information in this corollary must show a connection between the two generations.

While you are reading, looking and reviewing, you should also be thinking and asking questions. Look for the consistency and patterns of the dates and places. Make sure the entries you are considering are not duplicates.

This leads us to the next step.

Step No. 2
Once you have read, reviewed and looked at all the existing information, determine if you can find any additional sources, memories or other supporting information about the individual and his or her family.

If you don't understand what has already been done, then don't start adding in "your" information. You need to make an assessment of the status of the existing research about each individual you are considering. Remember, I am writing here about "existing" entries, not new information that you may have about your family. What is in the Family Tree is the accumulation of over 150 years of research and when there are extensive lists of sources, Memories, and notes, this means that the research that has already been done is worth considering. What it does not mean is that the research is correct. The conclusions of the past are not binding on the present. We have at our disposal an almost infinitely greater amount of information than was previously available.

Step No. 3
Do your own research.

Before diving into an established entry and starting to add information or making changes, do your own research. Verify the sources listed. Look at the original documents attached. Make sure that the entries are supported by valid conclusions. Be ready to defend your own conclusions with validly supplied documentation. There is always the possibility that you may disagree with the conclusions made that produce the existing entries. Check to see how many people are watching the entry you are considering changing. Be aware that all of those people may have done a lot of research about your family and may have good reasons for watching the entries.

Step No. 4
Once you have gone through all of the preceding steps, make your addition, change or correction including adding all of your supporting documentation and sources.

Don't be surprised if the people who are watching those entries respond in some way. They may have more information than you have already reviewed or not. If you add information or make corrections without explaining what you are doing or without supplying any additional documentation or sources, you can expect that your changes will be reversed sooner or later.

If you are used to working in the Family Tree, you might recognize that all of these steps can take just a few minutes or many days, weeks, months or years of research. Some information merely missing from the Family Tree and is now readily available. I do not usually expect any responses at all to adding new, previously unknown and unrecorded information to the Family Tree when I add the source for the information. But when I am working on existing, especially traditional, family lines, I always expect to be challenged when my research shows a change in the lines that varies from the "accepted" dogma.

Don't be surprised if you find yourself in the middle of a complicated and very difficult to untangle mystery. That is one of the real joys of being involved in family history.


  1. This is so timely given the "mess" I have been working for a week! Somehow, a well meaning individual has looked up sources and created four generations of a family by adding any source they could find for Charles Johnson and a wife Nancy. Didn't matter whether the wife's last name matched nor whether there were middle names or initials for Charles, nor whether birth dates, birth places, children's ages matched.
    They even added different census records taken in different parts of the countries for different families in the same census year. I believe I am up to seven families that I have been pulling apart. And, the well intended individual has reserved all kinds of temple ordinances to join all these people together. Of course, I cannot contact the person because they left no contact information on Family Search. I have sent a message, but I have found that, at least to date, no one ever responds to the messages sent unless I can send it to a specific email. I would like to correspond with them to make sure I am not messing up something that is important to them. I understand that "all will be easily taken care of in the millenium". But if that is the case, then I sometimes wonder why we bother wasting so much time doing all this work only to have to keep redoing it. I have a really crazy suggestion about how we might simply be able to keep families who have been well researched put into a semi-frozen condition so that they don't keep getting too messed up over and over. I know it is important to continue to add appropriate information, but there aren't enough years in our lives to keep redoing families over and over again. Also, there aren't enough hours in a lifetime to keep redoing temple ordinances over and over for the same people! Is there any way to send suggestions to anyone who would care in the Church Genealogy organization?

  2. I am sure they will get your message from this post.