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

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Collaboration Without Collaborators: The FamilySearch Family Tree

The whole idea of a wiki is to allow collaboration between the various users. The Family Tree is basically a wiki as I have pointed out many times in the past. See "The FamilySearch Family Tree is not paper" for an example. Here I need to quote myself, which I rarely do.
The Family Tree is not a paper genealogy program. 
This is probably the first and most difficult concept for the present genealogical community to accept and understand. Most of the current users of the program began their involvement with genealogy (or its euphemism, family history) either filling out paper forms or watching others fill out those same forms. The Family Tree is not limited in time and space to paper forms but the "paper forms mentality" still pervades the entire community. The most common symptom of this mentality is the "my treeism" noted by Family Tree Project Manager, Ron Tanner in a number of presentations. See "Ron Tanner Discusses Family Tree Road Map at - #BYUFHGC" and "Ron Tanner -- Live From Salt Lake City!" and many others. Contributions to the Family Tree immediately become the property of the Family Tree and not any individual contributor. No one owns the Family Tree. This fact is fundamentally disturbing to many users.
That post was written almost two years ago and I could have written the same thing today and still be facing the same issues and the same problems.  What I am seeing today is that the Family Tree is turning into more of a battleground than a venue for collaboration. For different reasons, a number of my children and their spouses have become very involved in a high level of research with the Family
Tree. As a result, I receive a significant amount of feedback about their interaction with other users of the Family Tree.

The main issues revolve around the fact that the contributors to the Family Tree either ignore attempts to communicate and collaborate or react so adversely as to discourage further contact. I have highlighted some of these negative responses in recent posts. For about the last ten years or so, I have been intentionally watching the cumulating mess in the Family Tree (and in concerning my own "Tanner" surname line. One observation that I have made from time to time is that there is a dearth of primary research.

Finally, I decided it was time to enter the fray and start sorting out the Tanner family entries in the Family Tree. More recently, I have been chronicling my efforts in a number of posts using the title "Finding Francis." So far, I have yet to find even one person who has added even one supporting source document to resolve the issue. In some cases, dozens of "sources" have been added, but those sources consist entirely of repeating the unsubstantiated conclusions of past researchers. In effect, I am contributing in a vacuum.

I am aware of many very competent and highly educated people that claim ancestry through the Tanner line. Where are these people? Why have I been spending years now adding supporting documents and records without encountering even one person in the huge Tanner family that is willing to collaborate or provide a modicum of additional support? I do not have to go very far to give examples of the problem. See "Finding Francis -- A Major Breakthrough."

Unfortunately, every one of my children and their spouses involved with the Family Tree on other family lines has been giving me exactly the same feedback. Their frustration level is rising rapidly.

I can give one really pertinent example. The main battle consists of establishing the parents of Francis Tanner MTC6-5WW. The traditional claims are based on incomplete research done in the early 1900s. There are currently two duplicate copies of a "William Tanner" who the traditionalists claim is the father of Francis Tanner. This "William Tanner" is very likely a composite of two or three or more "William Tanners" who lived in Rhode Island about the same time. There are dozens of sources cited for each of the two duplicates. Many of the people who have been adding these sources have added the same records over and over again, apparently without noticing that the records have already been attached. Here is a screenshot of part of the list of sources for William Tanner LH2G-FGG.

There are eight copies of the same index attached as sources for the marriages recorded for this particular individual. This index is found on Here is the description of the "index."
Original data: This unique collection of records was extracted from a variety of sources including family group sheets and electronic databases. Originally, the information was derived from an array of materials including pedigree charts, family history articles, querie.
None of the records in this database are substantiated by original documentation. The sources cited are worthless. Interestingly, not one of the entries for this person showing a marriage has a marriage date. You might also note that one of the sources listed is the FamilySearch Family Tree. Hmm.

Now, is there one of these people who would like to spend a few minutes talking to me or writing to me to find out what is really going on here? Not a one. Where are the collaborators?


  1. It seems to me there is definitely a dearth of serious genealogical research in the church. I have to put at least some of the blame for this on FamilySearch. My wife and I are temple and family history consultants in our ward. We have been through all the training and it seems the whole emphasis is on combing through Family Tree to find a green temple icon, then take it to the temple. We never hear anything about cleaning up the mess in Family Tree or doing serious genealogical research. I think FamilySearch needs to start reaching out to the seasoned, experienced genealogists in the church and urging them to help clean up the tree and do some serious research. The message needs to be that this is just as important as finding green temple icons.

  2. A resounding "AMEN" to Ted Johnson's comment!

  3. This issue is certainly not limited to FamilySearch, although I have noticed that a lot of my Google searches return results from that site. I have an old questionable ancestor with similarly sketchy sourcing. I have found exactly one source where someone went to great detail to debunk the popular conclusion, but the questionable information has been copied into almost every single genealogy database worldwide, including FamilySearch. The only original source is an old Quaker encyclopedia, but the reference is hearsay with no documentation.

    People prefer to have a name and a link that goes back just one more generation, whether or not it can be proven. And once it becomes the accepted wisdom, good luck in rooting it out!