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

Saturday, June 18, 2016

What will the FamilySearch Family Tree look like when it is fixed?

I am going to take an opportunity to speculate on the form and condition of the Family Tree once the limitations and other problems associated with the issues caused by are resolved and disappear. My comments in this post are pure speculation, but I suspect that even those who are working on the problem are not quite sure what will happen so I probably have a lot of company in this respect.

First off, we are dealing with a database that contains detailed information about millions upon millions of people that is growing at a fantastic rate. Information is being added by tens of thousands of users every day. The information in the database already ranges from extremely accurate to fantasy. Some of the information refers to individuals who either did not exist or are associated with the wrong family. The information is sitting in a program that is designed to be become more and more accurate over time. The program itself will also accommodate all of the information that can possibly be added. It is theoretically infinitely expandable. The Family Tree is not the problem, it is the solution.

So what is the problem?

The main functional problem is that the "seed" data or data added from existing records contained and contains a substantial number of duplicate entries that in many cases contain conflicting information. Because the data was originally loaded into a program called, there are currently still some limitations imposed by that program on the Family Tree. For years now, the engineers at FamilySearch have been working at eliminating those limitations by bypassing the program. Once any connection to or limitations imposed on the Family Tree are resolved, the Family Tree program will function as it is supposed to function without the limitations.

What are the limitations?

The original programs had no way of ridding itself of "duplicate" entries. All of the information about any individual whether original or duplicate, was simply added to that individual. That aspect of the program produced bloated data files for individuals who are allegorically called Individuals of Unusual Size or IOUSs. But there was a less obvious and secondary problem: because of the limitations, the Family Tree program could not identify all of the duplicate entries. No one, not even FamilySearch, really had any idea how many duplicate entries existed.

What will happen when the programming necessary to eliminate the limitations imposed by is completed?

Well, the simple answer is nothing obvious or readily apparent to the user. To those who have family lines that have IOUS-type ancestors, they will immediately begin seeing many more duplicates than were discoverable previously. This is already happening. For those who ancestors did not have "legacy" submissions and extensive membership records, there will be almost no changes. Remember, this is speculation on my part and not authorized or sanctioned by anyone.

How many duplicates will there be?

In some cases, the potential number of duplicate entries for one individual may number in the thousands. Remember, in many cases one duplicate individual represents an entire duplicate pedigree. Each historical "submission" of a family group record or other copy of a family created an addition duplicate.

What will be the core result of "fixing" the program?

The present limitations on the Family Tree make it practically impossible for some ancestral lines to be corrected. Once that limitation is removed, there will be a time period when certain family lines seems to go chaotic. Where there are so many duplicates that resolving the entries will seem endless. This is not the case, all of the duplicates can and will be eventually resolved. Some families may also find themselves with major adjustments to their "traditional" family histories. Many relationships that have been ignored or glossed over because of family prejudices or social conventions will be revealed and some people will not be happy. There will be an upsurge in DNA testing as some cherished family traditions start to fall.

What will the Family Tree look like"

It will look exactly the same as it does now with whatever programming embellishments are added from time to time.

How long will this restructuring process take?

One result of this process will be the elimination of many inaccurately attached ancestral lines from the program. Some users may see whole segments of their "ancestral lines" disappear from the Family Tree as incorrect family members and relationships are eliminated. The vast majority of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not see anything different at all. They do not now know enough about their family lines to detect any changes and that situation will not change. The "restructuring" will continue for years as additional records become available and as research is done by the tiny minority of members who do research continue to do what they do so well.

How will we know when the program is fixed?

We won't. It will simply begin to function properly and appropriately. My best guess is we are nearly to the point of complete functionality. I am seeing a lot more duplicates than ever before. I am seeing a lot more data than has been visible before. I expect that process will just continue to happen.

What problems will not be solved by the final separation of

The accuracy of the entries is entirely independent of the issue. The inaccurate, inappropriate and unsupported entries in the program will remain. In fact, there will be more of them.

What are the ultimate solutions?
  • Careful, well supported attention to the details of every individual entry. 
  • Expanded cooperation between users.
  • Attention to the reality of historical research.
In short, let those who know how to do the research and have the skills do their work. Let new users be taught how to enter information accurately and completely. Don't ignore the problems or pretend that they do not exist and will go away without a lot of effort and even more work. Stop pretending that there are no problems and let those who will do the work continue to do what they do so well. It is my opinion that there are many out here in the trenches who can and will do the work of cleaning up the Family Tree once they are given the tools and opportunity to do so.

Stop viewing the Family Tree as a "source" of names for ordinance work and start viewing it as it really is, a huge storage container for well-researched and well supported family history. It is and will be a record of what has been done, not a place to go to get additional names for Temple work. Most of us who are contributing new information about family members to the program are reserving those individual's names immediately or releasing them to the Temples. There is no big orchard of names accumulating in the Family Tree to be readily harvested by naive and inexperienced users. There are some individuals who have been overlooked, but the number of readily available ordinances will begin crashing as the duplicates are finally eliminated. In fact, the number of easily done "green icons" has already almost completely disappeared. 

Remember, this is pure speculation on my part. 


  1. I spent some time testing in the Beta version (with nFS removed) of FamilySearch yesterday and when I merged a record that used to be flagged as "unable to merge at this time" IOUS; the result became dozens of more records for that person that needed to be merged. So part of your speculation is correct.

  2. I couldn't agree more with your concerns about what Family Tree is and is not!

  3. I always love your speculations and visions of Family Tree. Especially the paragraph about not viewing the Family Tree as a source of names for ordinance work... Although my family lines include many IOUS-type ancestors, my husbands lines do not. It would be nearly impossible for my relatives to find temple names without experience in research, although plenty have been repeats.

    I don’t completely agree that the number of easily done ‘green icons’ have already almost completely disappeared because I’ve seen another view. I have been researching my husbands lines daily for over 4 years now and not only find a lot of work that needs to be done, but I leave a lot of my research available for other FS contributors as I stick closely to blood relationships and descendancy in reserving temple ordinances.

    Also considering the rate in which new data is being added to FamilySearch, I don’t imagine that completion of temple ordinances are up to speed with that growth. So, while there seems to be more green arrows in my world, my vision of FamilySearch is much aligned with yours!

    1. The key to what you are finding as "green icons" is the word "research." Yes, there are huge opportunities for research as my family and I are constantly finding.

  4. We also understand that the current Cisco database program is being replaced with one with greater capacity. We're all hoping this will speed up the computers.

  5. Excellent article. I couldn't agree more about stop viewing FT as an orchard of names to harvest. While the tools to add names to submit will be there it will be important to train users who are novices on how to properly document an ancestor.