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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Exploring the Limits of the FamilySearch Family Tree

June of 2016 saw nearly all of the inherited problems of the Family Tree disappear. The most obvious issue and the most bothersome, was the limitation on merging obvious duplicates. Since the date of the upgrade to the Family Tree, this limitation has almost completely disappeared. Of course, this does not mean that all the duplicates have been merged, there is still, at the date of this post, a huge number left, but it does mean that the work of cleaning up the Family Tree can now proceed with assiduousness.

Every time I look at any part of the Family Tree, I discover work that needs to be done. The program itself is full-featured but there are some obvious limitations to what can and what cannot be done without resorting to third-party software or giving up entirely.

One of the difficulties is separating out the sourced data from the unsourced data. In some cases, I have found where a source has been added, say with a specific birth date, but that information has not been transferred to the details shown for that particular individual. In other cases, there are many sources listed, but none of them support the birth, marriage or death date of the ancestor. In one case, I found a whole family line, where none of the dates were supported by sources, even though other sources appeared for other events in the their lives. This was particularly true for immigrants, where their time in America was well documented, but there were no sources for the events in their lives that occurred in the country of origin. In these cases, the number of sources can be misleading.

One of the most common issues involves the identification of the places where ancestral events occurred. From what I see in the Family Tree, there is a sad lack of general knowledge about geography, particularly when it comes to making judgments about the inclusion of family members by name. I consistently find that European place names are confused and mis-identified. Abbreviations are endemic as an artifact inherited from the old family group records. There is often no regard for the distance between places, especially when the time period involved makes the distances impossible. For example, I find a family living on the American frontier with a child in the middle of the list of children, born in a different country, when the time it would take the mother to travel to the country would prevent the baby from being born altogether. Specifically, my ancestors who lived in Northern Arizona in the 1880s did not have a random child born in England, adoption possibilities notwithstanding.

Many of the family lines on the Family Tree have the decency to end when the supporting data runs out. But too many of them run on into realms of fantasy, where parents are having children after they die or before they are born.

Here is a good example of the problems that still exist in the Family Tree.

First, and most obviously, there are no supporting sources listed for William Tanner. In the Family Tree as presently shown, he has seven wives, with two sets of obvious duplicates. I have to mention that I have quite a bit of documentation about William Tanner, who was the immigrant to Rhode Island and first shows up in Rhode Island in 1680. In addition, despite repeated requests, I have yet to see any documentation that ties him to any parent in England. The person shown as his father is listed as Francis Tanner born in Rhode Island in 1634 and who died in England in 1719. Whoever entered this information needs to realize that Roger Williams established the Providence Plantation in 1636.

You might also note that Francis Tanner and Elizabeth Symonds his wife, who were married in Rhode Island, had a child, my ancestor William Tanner, who was apparently born in Chipstead, Surrey, England on 10 March 1657 and then another child, John Tanner born in Rhode Island in 1692 when the father, Francis Tanner was 58 years old and 35 years after William Tanner was supposedly born. Elizabeth Symonds has no birth or death information other than a England and Deceased.

I could go on and on, but the point here is that I find the same type of problems with almost every line I examine. The tragedy here is that this Tanner line is extended another five generations in England until 1510. Absent some breakthrough research, the line really ends with William Tanner in 1680 in Rhode Island.

I might mention that following the birth of "Francis Tanner" in Rhode Island in 1634, his ancestors as shown in the Family Tree were subsequently born and died in the following locations. I am listing the places as they appear in the Family Tree:

  • William Tanner, b. 1610, England, d. 22 October 1688, Bromley, Kent, England
  • William Tanner, b. 24 February 1573, Kington St. Michael, Wiltshire, England, Deceased
  • William Tanner, b. 1537, Kington St. Michael, Wiltshire, England, d. 1590, Wiltshire, England
  • Matthew Tanner, b. about 1510, Kington St. Michael, Wiltshire, England, d. 1565 Kington St. Michael, Wiltshire, England

I might mention that there are 24 sources listed for the William Tanner b. 1537, 6 sources listed for the William Tanner born in 1573 and 11 sources listed for the William Tanner born in 1610, but no sources listed for the Francis Tanner supposedly born in Rhode Island in 1634 and, of course, no sources tying my ancestor, William Tanner to anyone in England before his arrival in Rhode Island in about 1680.

If you look carefully at your own lines, assuming they extend at all into the past, you will find exactly the same types of problems. When you are looking at the entries in the Family Tree, why not spend a few minutes thinking about what you are looking at. Do the dates and places make sense given the time period in question and the methods of travel available? Do the entries correspond to the historical context, such as births occurring before the places existed? Do the ages of the parents and the sequence of the births make sense? Could all the children be physically born in different counties or even different countries?

In my own line, it appears to me that the person designated as "Francis Tanner" who was supposedly born in Rhode Island before Roger Williams arrived, is not a real person. The person listed as his wife, Elizabeth Symonds, is another issue. A search on shows that during the early 1600s, ten years before and after the birth date listed for her husband, there were about 459 Elizabeth Symonds in England.

Even assuming that the name is correct, which one was the correct one? There were also about 136 people named Francis Tanner and born within two years of 1634. Where is the data connecting these two individuals?

Now, please remember, that I have yet to see anything showing a connection between my ancestor William Tanner and anyone in England. End of story. But remember, if you have any old family lines in your portion of the Family Tree, you probably have exactly the same challenges.

1 comment:

  1. I have also noticed that some don't transfer the updated data from the source record to the person. However, one explanation could be that they are using the app from their phone or tablet as it is not easy to get from the source to the person from those places. Sometimes you do the attach on some of the people only to realize that some of the data needs to be updated. So, best to check the child data on birth records and skip the these source records if they don't match (or realize it could take some work) and marriage records can also be problematic.

    I still find it easier to use my computer for this, but realize many people now rely on their phones and tablets.