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

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The FamilySearch Family Tree -- A Review and Retrospective -- Part Three

Here are the previous installments of this series. This really is a continuation of the previous posts so you might want to read them to understand what I am saying. Thanks.

I think I need to write about the distinction between the program and the data in more detail. The difference is obvious to some, but other users fail to distinguish between the problems they are having with the information or data loaded into the program and the program itself. Presently, from my perspective, the program itself has very, very few issues or problems. Some of the observed problems, such as when the program is running slowly or not at all, are caused by other causes having to do with website maintenance, backing up the data or other external network or server related issues.

The data, including names, dates, and other content, is an entirely different matter altogether. As I have mentioned previously, this data inherits a long history dating back into the 1800s. Because of this historical background and the changes in the way the data was submitted over time, the entries vary in their content and accuracy. For example, here is a family group record that was submitted back in 1950.

Here is a screenshot of the same record as it appears in the Family Tree.

You may have to study the family group record for a while, but you just might notice that the information is listed as being obtained as follows:

Bradford Reg. by Corr. Rec'd 31 Jan. 1949.

There is also the name of the person submitting the record. However, none of this extra very important information was preserved when the record was loaded into the Family Tree (by way of There are no sources listed and the relationship between the submitter and the present record has been lost. There are also parents or children listed. Both the husband's and wife's birth dates are estimated.

So how is anyone supposed to work with this isolated individual and his wife? Essentially, all of the research concerning this person's identity will have to be redone. However, the Temple ordinances were all completed for both these individuals back in 1950 and 1951.

Even though this person is sitting in the Family Tree, someone who is related will not know to search for this person until they do the research and enter this much information into the Family Tree as a duplicate and then, if they do look for a duplicate and it matches, they will find this couple. Because neither this person nor his wife have any parents or children listed, they are essentially orphaned.

This points out an important fact: the information in the Family Tree is highly fragmented as well as duplicated. It could be a very long time before this couple's children and parents are identified. What is interesting is that it is very likely all the children and the parents are all in the program somewhere.

In addition to the problems with duplication and fragmentation, over the years researchers have made huge number of wrong relationship connections. Most of these have been based on assumptions that a person with the same name, regardless of location, is the same person. I have found that nearly every one of my ancestral lines ultimately goes back to an unwarranted and unsupported assumption concerning an ancestor. Some of these are good guesses but others are flights of fantasy. For example, here is a screenshot where a long line of people living in Huntingdonshire are recorded in Cambridgeshire in the early 1700s and then the link goes to Shropshire and then back to Cambridgeshire. The Daniel Scott shown here is listed as being born in Shropshire.

The only way to work through these seemingly insurmountable problems is the carefully research back generation by generation on the lines and correct the information and document everything that can be documented.  This may not be good news to many researchers, but until the lines are cleaned up doing anything with these older entries is highly ill-advised. It is very likely, as has already happened on some of my own lines that I will disprove the link back at some point and all of those individuals listed that go further back will no longer be in my lines. At no point where documentation is not verifiable can you assume that the entries are correct.

From a purely genealogical standpoint, the effort is certainly worth the time it takes. We are all reasonably assured that the entries we make in the Family Tree will remain. For the time being, we need to watch our entries carefully as we work and make sure to revert or correct any unsupported changes while at the same time trying to communicate with those who are "working" on the same lines. As an incidental advantage to doing this extensive clean up effort, we are constantly finding new people for the Family Tree and hence addition Temple ordinance opportunities.

Although there are some challenges it is important to understand that the Family Tree program works. Just because the data is a mess is no reason to despair. It is more an invitation to get to work and fix the problems. It is very important to realize that what we are doing is the results of years and years of preparation and work in understanding and researching the records. We are learning new things every day. Despite the constant invitation to new users to work on the Family Tree and how easy it will be, it is really quite a complicated and challenging proposition. The trick is getting the people who can do the work to actually take the time to do it. The best way to do this through a serious mentoring process where experienced researchers work with those with less experience and then both are benefited.

It is time to stop waiting for the Family Tree to get fixed. It is already fixed in that sense. Although the work of fixing everything is not nearly done. There are presently many opportunities to move ahead in a decisive way with research. Watch and Work.

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