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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dealing With the Playground Bully on the FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Two: Making Sure You are Correct

This series is directed at a comment received by one of my online friends. For convenience, I will repeat a copy of the comment.
So you are not related to my line in anyway? By the way are you working for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Family Search? If not cease and desist! from working on my pedigrees. 
This is my problem with Family Search. That anyone who wants to can go in and delete or change anything that they choose to with out consent of the submitter. 
That file was submitted due to the change from family trees. it was easier than typing it in all over again as there are more than 13000 names on it.
to say that this is not a source is ludicrous. 
Please do not touch my line again. Go mess up someone else's pedigree. Am I angry? yes! You are not helping you are confusing and causing chaos and unnecessary work for those of us who have worked for over 40 years!
 Here is the link to the first post.

The reason why I wrote an explanation of GEDCOM files in the first post was that in approaching this kind of response, it is very important to be sure that your own position with regard to the change or addition is "correct" as far as it is possible for you to determine. The real problem with this response is the attitude and language used by the Playground Bully or PB. But before you get involved in prolonging this dispute, you should make sure you are standing on higher ground than the bully. For the purposes of this discussion, I am assuming that the PB added the source in dispute back and remade the change or addition to the information in the Family Tree.

If you do some minimal searching in the Help Center for information about sources in the Family Tree, you will see that attaching a link to a random website is not a proper source addition. In fact, the main Help Center article entitled, "Creating a source in Family Tree" indicates the following:
FamilySearch reviews URLs that you add for sources to make sure they contain content that is appropriate for inclusion in Family Tree.
  • If you enter a website that is already approved for use in Family Tree, you can save the source and proceed as normal.
  • If you enter a website that is not approved by FamilySearch, the system prompts you to submit the URL for review. When the URL is approved, you receive email notification. You then need to come back into Family Tree and re-create the source. This typically happens when you link to a personal blog, a photo-sharing site, Google documents, or another site that does not monitor content.
  • If you enter a website that has already been determined to be inappropriate, you cannot save the source.
Interestingly, PB makes an assumption in his/her statement implying that FamilySearch could be the one making the edit. In fact, FamilySearch's involvement is minimal, but it seems possible that the PB has had a previous run-in with inappropriate additions to the Family Tree based on the question being asked. As I pointed out previously, the PB likely has very superficial knowledge about GEDCOM files as evidenced by the reference to a URL link that goes to a random website.

In this case, my friend was the one detaching the source. The first short paragraph of PB's tirade contains two indications that this person has little knowledge about the way the Family Tree program works. First of all, your relatives are very likely to be the only people editing your portion of the Family Tree. The second statement containing the words "my pedigree" fall into the ownership issue. You do not own your ancestors. You have no more or less right to make changes or additions to the Family Tree than anyone else working on the program. The Family Tree is unified and completely participatory. It would not really matter whether or not my friend was or was not related to the PB. Everyone has equal access to the dead people in the entire Family Tree program. There is really nothing stopping me or anyone else from correcting or changing "your entries." It is certainly good manners and appropriate to make changes to your own relatives in the Family Tree, but there is nothing limiting me or anyone else from making those corrections or changes even if we are not "related."

Since we are all on even ground in making changes to the Family Tree, the response by PB here is even more inappropriate and is the main reason I refer to him/her as a bully. But even given this unified equality, FamilySearch can still make its own decisions about the appropriateness of the content of the Family Tree. Here, for this reason, alone, the source link should have been detached. It is not a good idea to have random links from the Family Tree to unrelated websites.

Should I be required to obtain your permission before making changes to your submissions to the Family Tree? The answer seems obvious. The Family Tree is designed to eliminate the need for this type of permission. In designing the Family Tree, FamilySearch specifically rejected a "closed" system of editing where permission would be required to modify any additions or corrections to the data in the program. The strength of the program is that it is an open playing field and anyone can participate. If you want to maintain your own private family tree you're more than welcome to use any of the many other programs that are available for hosting family trees.

Some contributors to the Family Tree take the position that it is "polite" to contact a contributor before making any corrections or changes. On the other hand, I feel that the system of "watching" those ancestors you are concerned with obviates the need to have permission before making changes. A permission process would severely impede the progress of correcting the huge amount of previously submitted data incorporated in the Family Tree. In addition, many of the entries do not provide information concerning the original contributor. Further, how long should we be required to wait for a response?

In discussing PB's comment with some very competent genealogists, the discussion revolved around the appropriateness of detaching sources per se. Further discussion involved the issue of whether or not it was better to leave all the sources listed whether or not they were appropriate and whether or not they added information to the Family Tree. You may have a different opinion but I feel that the fact that an inappropriate source exists may influence less sophisticated researchers into believing that there is some basis for the accuracy of the information. For example, if I put in an arbitrary date and then add a source that is entirely unrelated to the date, it may be that some researchers would be deterred from correcting the information simply by the fact that a "source" existed. For this reason, I feel that totally inappropriate sources should be detached. You may have a different opinion.

PB's comment above does not fall into this category. It is not only inappropriate, it also violates the basic premise of adding sources to the Family Tree, that is, giving further researchers the opportunity to review the original documents upon which the correction or deletion is based. What if I simply added a standard response as a source that I believed the information to be correct without supplying any documentation as to the source or origin of the information I added? In essence, this is exactly what PB is doing. He/she is claiming to be right without providing any basis for the conclusion.

 It may be possible, that PB thought that he/she was circumventing the process of uploading a GEDCOM file by simply adding it as a source. I am frequently faced with the question about adding an entire GEDCOM file to the Family Tree. In almost every single case, it is inappropriate due to the fact that the content of the GEDCOM file is duplicated in the Family Tree.

The most important and crucial issue raised by PB's comment is the fact that such comments discourage participation in the Family Tree. I will continue this discussion in my next post in this series. I would certainly invite any comments to this or any other post in the series. I feel it is important to discuss this type of issue in order to prevent people from being discouraged about participating in the Family Tree.


  1. As I have written before, "my gedcom" has always been my favorite source citation, followed now by "information from," entered by a person who will not show their e-mail address, though my experience has been if the person cites to those sources an attempt to communicate and have a rational exchange of views is a false hope. I just pluck the weed and move on.

  2. So many people, including members of the Church, simply do not understand the premise of FamilySearch and the fact that it is an open and shared tree. To that end, we will probably continue to have problems with PB or the other side of the coin, linking names and families without researching them. I hope your future posts addressing these problems help us learn how to respond and deal with the problem without offense or bitterness.

    You are doing a great work for FamilySearch and appreciate the time you give to help others.

    1. I am sure that is the case. I will keep posting as I see the problems and the solutions.

  3. One thing that would be helpful is an expanded discussion of sources by the folks at FamilySearch Family Tree with a statement that "my gedcom" and "information from," etc., are not considered helpful source citations and should not be used. Then having a canned courteous response to message or send to the person that uses those sources, with a reference to the "official" FamilySearch Family Tree would be helpful to those who just don't know any better. This would help me as a non-church member, because one can see from your example that some, once they learn you are not a church member, write that anything you write may be discounted or that you are not welcome.

    1. You point out another serious problem and that is making everyone welcome to use the Family Tree. Thanks for your suggestion.

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  5. Great article. Had so many people send me nasty notes on Family Search How dare I post a source on Public website in a public tree! If sources are showing up in my recommended tasks on FS, I see that as FS giving me permission to post. If they are related to me, I'm researching them. If everyone waited for everyone else to do the work, the work would never get done. Also refer people to this link, that tells them what names they can add on Family Search: