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

Monday, June 8, 2015

Same Name, Same Person = Garbage In, Garbage Out

Note the comments and links below. This is a rather complex issue and we all need all the explanations and help we can get.

I am not-so-patiently waiting for the day when FamilySearch has finally completed loading all of its stored up data into the Family Tree program. Here is the latest hurdle we have to cross to "clean up" the data. 

FamilySearch has gotten to the point where they are adding all of the data in their massive files from the International Genealogical Index (IGI) extraction records. For example, here is a record added as a source to my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner:

This source claims to be an extracted IGI record that was used to create this person. I take that to mean that the record here for Henry Martin Tanner was "created" by using the extracted record from the IGI. When I click on the link that says "Learn More..." this is the explanation that I get:

This explanation is very long and extremely involved. I have read the explanation several times and I still do not understand it. Apparently, if I follow all of the instructions, I am supposed to use this new source to create a new person in the Family Tree who is not related to me in any way and then add this reference from the IGI as a source to that new person. Then after doing that, I can detach the source from my own ancestor. Of course, the assumption here is that this source attached by FamilySearch does not apply to my own ancestor, which might or might not be correct.

OK, so what was or is the original record from this source? Here is what the IGI record is referring to:

My ancestor, Henry Martin Tanner, was born in California, moved to Utah and lived most of his life in Arizona. Except for trips to Utah, he never traveled outside of the Western United States. I am not related to the person named in this record, Esther Julia Tanner from England. The explanation for attaching this record states the following:
Do not detach a source added by FamilySearch because it is attached to the incorrect person until a new record is created for that person. The flag "This extracted IGI record was used to create this person" indicates an original source record. If you believe the original source for this person is linked incorrectly, identify the person that is best represented.
OK, so I try to follow the instructions which say,
Review each source to identify which facts belong to the person represented in your family tree and which should be moved to another record. In the example shown, the Ann Etherington, christened 11 Mar 1744, cannot be the same Ann Etherington, christened 6 Mar 1830. This indicates an incorrect merge.

Realize there are various reasons for a historical record source to be attached. It could be because it is the birth or christening of a person or a marriage of a person. It could be because they were a spouse in a record or a parent in a record. All sources should remain with the correct person.
You have to see the examples from the instructions to understand who they are talking about. The instructions go on to state the following:
Review linked family members to determine which source is correct for the person represented. In this case, the Ann Etherington born in 1744 could not be the daughter of the John Errington born in 1793 nor the daughter of Elizabeth born in 1799. The Ann Etherington represented by the 1830 sources seems correct and aligns with the other information in the record, including the place. Using these clues you decide the 1830 source is correct and the 1744 source represents an incorrectly combined record. 
Note: Begin by researching and gathering as many facts as possible for each person. Identify which facts belong to the person represented in your family tree and which should be moved to another record. It is better to do the research and not guess before making changes.
Now, I am completely lost. I am certain that the Henry Tanner in the IGI record is not my Henry Tanner. There is a record for Esther Julia Tanner in the Family Tree, who, by the way, is not related to me at all:

In fact, the record for this unrelated person includes the correct christening information and a reference to the source added to my own ancestor, Henry Martin Tanner.

So what happens if I ignore the rest of the instructions and simply detach the record from Henry Martin Tanner because it is the wrong record? Well, I will not have to spend my time adding information to a record that already has the information attached. So I detach the record from Henry Martin Tanner. The record is now gone from Henry Martin Tanner.

Is the record still attached to the unrelated person, Ether Julia Tanner? Yes. Exactly the same record referring to Esther Julia Tanner is still attached to her. In addition, there are two Record Hints for this Esther Julia Tanner person to records with the same information.

Do we want the original record or the IGI index of the record? Is the IGI the source? Do I really want to create a new person from this IGI record as explained by the rest of the long instructions? What is really going on here?

Are there duplicate records for Henry Martin Tanner in the Family Tree? Here is the results of a search for duplicates for Henry Martin Tanner:

Are there incorrectly combined records? Who knows? We can no longer look at One thing, the record for Esther Julia Tanner does not have any parents listed. Her parents are identified as Henry Tanner and Eliza (the same names approximately as my great-grandparents). The identification of this record as a source for my family seems to be a case of same name = same person or in computer terms, garbage in - garbage out. Can we positively identify the parents of Esther Julia Tanner from the record we are given? This is assuming I care to take the time to work on the ancestry of a person to whom I am not even arguably related to.

Can I find a Henry Tanner in the Family Tree? The only thing I know at this point is a name and a christening date for his daughter in Bristol, Gloucestershire, England. I have no birth, death or any other information. The search form for the Family Tree is as follows:

This is the Advanced Search. You can see that the information for searching is somewhat limited. I do not know any of the information that would let me determine this Henry Tanner from all the others. The results of the search brings up 1805 different Henry Tanners. If I add in the name of his spouse as Eliza, I reduce that number to 105 results. Not one of the Henry Tanners listed is married to an Eliza and lived in Bristol. Of course, the name "Eliza" could be Betty, Elizabeth etc.

Where are we from all this? I have no idea. Did I create some kind of huge problem by detaching the source? I have no idea.


  1. Thank you for this post, James. I thought it was just me... I have some of these IGI-created records in my tree, and have no idea at all what to do with them (even after reading the linked articles). I always love to read your blog to learn the "backstory" and what it really takes to make things work. In the absence of a clear solution, the next best thing is understanding I'm not alone in my confusion. I think I'll hold off on those records for a bit.

    1. i have read and re-read the instructions and I am not sure what they think I should do with them either.

  2. There are two presentations you need to look at by folks from our website and whose work was posted on the Help Center Learning Center. The first is by Heather McPhie: Manual Separation Process for Incorrectly combined Records, at this url:
    And while creating a new person and taking apart a mis-combined person is a complicated process, as your post here emphasizes, it is not impossible, just quite time consuming. And Heather makes it look easy. At some point, your cousin Ron has said that we will be able to examine all temple work associated with the data of our ancestors, and then request that some be attached as the earliest, and some dis-associated.
    And the other presentation is by Kathryn Grant titled:Duplicates in Family Tree at this url:
    which discusses multiple ways to find dups besides the Possible Duplicates Tool. Possible Dups is probably the weakest functionality on FT, although they may be considering strengthening it. Which do we want more: duplicate records which allow duplicate temple work, or mis-merged records by non-cautious users?
    What I am constantly reminded of considering issues like these is - that Heavenly Father could just reach down and touch the electronics of FT and fix it all in an instant. But this is OUR pioneer task. Not to freeze and starve on the snowy plains, but to strain our brains, eyes and resources to untangle this web.

    1. Thanks for more specific links and instructions. It did not appear that these records were incorrectly combined since there was a completely separate record for the person easily located. How would you know if the records had been improperly combined or it was just a situation that the record could not be differentiated from all the records with a similar name?

  3. I have come up with my own explanation of what you are seeing with Esther Julia Tanner's record and the IGI sources. I hope this is more clear than the "Learn More" pages which are unnecessarily complex because they are trying to cover all possible situations. There really are four different cases in which these IGI sources are found:

    1) The primary individuals, that is the child in a birth record or the two spouses in a marriage record, were never incorrectly merged in NFS or Family Tree.

    2) The secondary individuals, that is the parents, were never incorrectly merged in NFS or Family Tree.

    3) The primary individuals were incorrectly merged or combined.

    4) The secondary individuals were incorrectly merged or combined

    Each of these four situations are handled differently. Esther's record involves cases 1 and 4. Here is my complete explanation, including pictures:

    If this is still confusing or you have questions, I can try again.

    1. Thanks for your long and involved explanation. However, I do have a lot of residual questions. Your complete explanation points out that the the Esther Julia Tanner person likely had her sealing work done some time ago, before NFS and FSFT. But the Family Tree does not show her parents or the ordinances, likely because of the incorrect merging of her parents with my Great-grandfather and mother. The first question is simple, why should I spend my time correcting a problem that has nothing to do with my family? However, I do recognize a general interest in correcting entries in the Family Tree. But how do I know that Henry and Eliza are actually the parents of Esther? Do I simply take the word of whomever did the extraction? Are we now going to correct the Family Tree from the IGI? Do we consider the IGI to be a source? I have these and many more questions.

    2. What SHOULD you do with Esther’s record? You’ll have to ask Ron Tanner about that!

      What would I do, being the somewhat opinionated person that I am and prone to follow my own counsel in such matters? That I can tell you.

      I wouldn’t do anything more than you have done for Esther. Being born in England with absolutely no connection to your family there is really no reason to do more. You have removed her incorrect parents and left her and her IGI record for her descendants to find. Her sealing is done and valid. If you re-add her parents, those ordinances are going to show as available and someone will wander through and do them.

      However, if this had occurred in one of my wife’s lines in in a small Norwegian parish where everyone eventually turns out to be some type of cousin and where I am very familiar with the records, I would fully research any spurious children, get them back with their proper parents, and fully source them with all available documents, then bug support to get the ordinances moved properly. But that is because I will likely run into them again anyway.

      How do you know that Henry and Eliza are actually Esther’s parents? As with any record, all you can know is what the record says. At this point, the only reason Esther is in Family Tree at all, is because of the IGI record which is based on the extraction record. If I was really researching this family, would I stop with the IGI record? Certainly not. I would be ordering the original microfilm and want to check the information myself. But if I am merely restoring her record to its original state, I would stop with the IGI because that was where the Family Tree record came from originally. Then I would leave further corrections up to her descendants.

      Would I correct an entry in Family Tree from the IGI? It depends on my view of the reliablity of the IGI record compared to the reliability of the information in Family Tree. Both range from highly reliable to highly suspect.

      Do I consider the IGI community extracted records to be sources, the ones that are now found in the Historical Record databases? Yes. Sort of. More like a source for a source. A signpost pointing to a source. Sometimes just a breadcrumb leading to a source. Sometimes an indication that there used to be a breadcrumb before a bird ate it. I do attach all of them I run across but then do everything I can to pair them with the actual record that was extracted, as I have done for this individual: Mari Ottesdatter Ã…dland (1767 – 1793) PID: LHVP-31V

      Do I consider the IGI community contributed records to sources? No. It is next to impossible to find where that information came from. I do take them as an indication that someone at sometime thought the information was trustworthy and might have had a source for it and use it as an incentive to keep looking for a source.

    3. Your comment is the best summary I have ever read about this issue. Thanks for the clear and cogent explanation of the relationship between an index and a source. The problem is that without this insight, the average Family Tree user will add the child to the family. I have seen a number of extraneous children added to the Henry Martin Tanner family over the years.

  4. What a mess! It seems to me there are only a handful of FT users who will even understand what the issue is here, and an even smaller number that will try and do anything about it. For the vast majority of records in FT, the wrongly attached IGI sources are simply going to sit there forever, creating endless confusion. Even worse, they will lead some users to add incorrect data to the family and research the wrong lines. My experience has been that many FT users feel that if "Family Search" added the source it must correct. The other thing I am starting to realize is that the temple ordinance data that is shown on a record may or may not be the ordinance work for my ancestor. It may be temple work for some other person who was wrongly combined or merged with my ancestor. Apparently, at some point we are going to be required to go through all the records in the tree, try and figure out if the temple work is correct, and then submit a support case to get it straightened out! Unfortunately, I am starting to get the feeling that FT is going to end up like Ancestral File, where at some point where we will just throw up our hands and say it is hopelessly corrupted.

    1. I have a much more positive viewpoint about the Family Tree. Family Tree is solution, not the problem.