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

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Family Tree Dilemma

Public or private? Open or closed? Local or online? The debate rages on. Well, I really shouldn't say rages. I doubt anything about genealogy rages very much.

This entire issue originates with the availability of online family tree programs. When some of us started working on our genealogy, the only option for sharing the work we had done was to photocopy a family group record and even back then there were some who wrote them out by hand to save the copy cost. Wait a minute, we still have people who write everything out by hand. So there is an even more basic issue of using a computer program at all for storing your genealogical information.

Genealogy or family history is organized information and computers are tools for working with information. There really is no valid "craft" industry for handling information. I may be able to do woodworking with hand tools for some esthetic reasons, but doing genealogy by hand does not produce a more valid "product," it just takes longer and is less complete and accurate. Genealogy is about gathering information from historical sources. It is all about access. Computers and the Internet have expanded our capacity to gather information more quickly, with greater accuracy and be more complete. Already today, I have heard complaints about the "technology." But the fact is that the technology has opened up a whole new world of access to information.

Now to the topic of how to store and maintain this flood of information. Personally, I vote for the Family Tree and I no longer have to qualify my vote by a reference to the fact that the Family Tree needs to be fixed. It is fixed and it is time to get busy and work on making it into the excellent resource it always had the potential of becoming. By writing this, I am coming down on the side of public, open and online family trees.

The counter to this position can be summarized in the following points:

  • I need a program for my own work because what I have is either incomplete or sensitive.
  • I don't like Family Tree because it changes all the time.
  • I don't trust computers or the Internet.
Most of the other comments I get are variations on these issues. You do not own your ancestors. Dead people do not have privacy rights. However, if you feel strongly about any of these issues, I suggest using a different program either one on your own computer or one online. But I would add a word of caution. Make sure that you make adequate arrangements so that your genealogical work is not lost when you die. The main advantages of the Family Tree are longevity and predictability. 

The idea that the Family Tree changes is correct. It does change. But there are internal functions that help the program improve and become more accurate. 

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