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

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ten Common Areas of Concern on the FamilySearch Family Tree - Part One

Part of what is going on with the Family Tree is our "inheritance" of 100+ years of accumulated family history. A certain percentage of the users of the program find that their ancestors have accumulated a huge amount of information. However, some, especially those who families joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more recently (after 1900), will find a virtual open field for entering information. However, even those with relatives who joined the Church more recently, there is always the possibility that extensive information about certain family lines has already been accumulated in the program.

I decided to choose an arbitrary number (ten) of areas I commonly see as needing attention. Many of these areas are ignored by those working on the program and can and will cause problems in the future. Each of these areas are details that need to be "cleaned up." It is significant that all ten concerns are illustrated in this one entry. I will be splitting this post into two parts with the first five concerns in this post and the next five concerns in a second post to come. Here is the list:

Concern Number One

This screenshot actually shows the first four areas of concern. But, first, comes the name of the ancestor. It took me only a few seconds of clicking on my pedigree to find this example. The problem her lies with adding in extraneous information to the name of the ancestor. The Family Tree search engine will consider the part of the name in parenthesis to be "part of the name" and will not find records for this person. The extra name is intended to be an "Alternative Name" and should be added to the Other Information section. There is a pull-down menu of suggested other information categories that can be chosen. This is not a trivial issue. In addition, the name here in the Vital Information section should be the actual birth name, i.e. the name given at birth. Any alternate names adopted by the deceased person should be put in the Other Information section. There are exceptions to this rule. For example, there is a possibility that the person actually changed their name during their lifetime. In these cases the additional names may be added in. My Great-great-grandfather's name was Charles Godfrey DeFriez. He changed his name to Charles Godfrey Jarvis. All of his children went by the name of Jarvis. To avoid a search for another father, we reflect that change by putting the Jarvis name at the end of his name, i.e. Charles Godfrey DeFriez Jarvis. 

Concern Number Two

There really a lot I can say about this second type of entry. Initially, abbreviations are unacceptable. Again, the Family Tree search engine is not going to recognize this particular abbreviation. I could write an entire book about the rest of the problems with this entry. For example. the date is 1674. West Virginia, Shepherdstown, and Berkley county did not exist. Where was this person born? Additionally, an invalid, but very common assumption has been made that because a person's name is associated with a particular place, that person was born there. This entry is an admission that there is no information about this person. Abbreviations need to be expanded into complete place names, but more importantly, the correct place needs to be identified. There is no way to tell if this is the correct person without more specific information. Hint: West Virginia did not become a state until 1863. 

Concern Number Three

Dates can be slippery. This is especially true of the date here: 1674. In about 1752 the Gregorian Calendar replaced the previously used Julian Calendar. Does this change affect the date? We cannot know or tell because the date is listed as approximate. This is another admission that nothing is really known about this person. There are online calendars that will calculate the difference in the dates. See Less obvious, is the fact that children of this person are shown being born as late as 1745 when Jeane Cheverill was 71 years old. This is really another concern that I will write about below. 

Concern Number Four

The death place is shown as "Frederick, Virginia." This is a county formed in 1743. By this time, Jeane Cheverill would have been 69 years old. This age is not impossible for the time period, but very unlikely. Of course, there are no sources substantiating this advanced age or place. The real issue here, however, is that without a death date, it is nearly impossible to tell where this person actually died. Here is a quote from Wikipedia about Frederick County, Virginia that illustrates the problem:
Frederick County was established in 1743 from parts of Orange County. (At that time, "Old Frederick County" encompassed all or part of four counties in present-day Virginia — Shenandoah, Clarke, Warren, and Frederick — and five in present-day West VirginiaHardy, Hampshire, Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan.)
That is a lot of territory to cover trying to research a death place and date.

Concern Number Five

This list of Alternative Names is misleading and inaccurate. She did not have all these names at birth. Additionally, the real birth name, if it is known, should be in the detail section shown above in the first screenshot. What do we do about all these supposed birth names? This is a difficult issue. Some of them are obviously wrong. She was not called "Mrs. Jane Morgan" or "Unknown (Morgan)" when she was born. These can readily be deleted with a comment about the fact that they are simply inaccurate. Taking that step, in this case, actually removes all of the names from the list. The name "Jane" might be re-entered as an Alternative Name if there are records to show that she used or went by that name.

That is all five of the first concerns. Stay tuned for the next batch. 


  1. Oh yes ... I totally agree with you. I clean up any profile I happen to be working on, and these 4 items are problems in just about every person I have touched.

  2. In fixing the Other Information regarding Alternate Names, folks need to record a name as it appears in a source and even as it was indexed, even though it is nor correct, so that others will know that the source does belong with the person. Many folks do not know to click on the birth name, click edit, see a drop down list where they can choose either birth name, alternate name, nick name, married name of other. Once again training, training, training is needed.

    1. Well, assuming that someone comes and listens to the training.

  3. IMO, you missed one: "of Shepherdstown". In the original record, such a construct normally means that this person was from "Shepherdstown", not from "of Shepherdstown", so the birth place must not include the "of". And indeed, from does not imply birth, so when the data comes from a census, the place is no more than a guess.

    1. I am not through yet. This is only the first five issues.

  4. Something I find just fascinating is how many of these corrections we are doing now were not only acceptable but required in the past. It makes me wonder how much people fifty years from now will be shaking their heads over how we enter data. “Of” is a case in point. To quote from Lessons in Genealogy. (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Geneaological Society of Utah, 1915):

    “Use of ‘of.’
    Going- back to our sample record, we see that there is very little data regarding the names we have. There are no dates regarding John Young. The only fact we have is that he lived in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, and this we may record in the space under ’Where born.’ We do not know he was born in that place, so it will not do to leave the record without some qualifying statement. We therefore use the word ‘of' before the name of the town, Leeds. This shows us that John Young was a resident ‘of' Leeds, the only fact we have to identify him as regards place.”

    This raises a question. What should we do with all those place names preceded by “of”? Since “of” means “was a resident of,” should we delete the place name entirely from the birth field, enter it into the custom events section as a residence and add the years of residence if known?

    1. Thanks for the comment. I guess I need to look at "of" more completely. I am not sure how the search engines consider the "of" locations.

    2. I assume the "of" in place names is pretty much just ignored by the search engine. Here is part of the quandary. Custom events are not searched by the search engine. If a birth place is listed as "of Leeds," as in the example, that could by wildly inaccurate and lead some people wildly astray if they are not aware of the old, accepted use of "of." He could have been born far from there. Leaving the birth place blank and putting Leeds as a custom event residence would be accurate but the search engine won't find him if searching by place. So what is the best advice when needing to choose between being accurate and being findable?

    3. Hi, thanks for the comments. I just posted and quoted you and pointed out the source and suggested that the "of" location should be categorized as a residence location.