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

Saturday, August 6, 2016

What to Look For in Cleaning Up the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part One

Those people I talk to about the Family Tree have a variety of responses to the content. Their reaction to a first view of the Family Tree depends entirely on the amount of information already available about their immediate family. There are two things that usually become evident. First is the accuracy of the entries and second is whether or not the entries can be edited. Most new users of the Family Tree are surprised to discover that they can "correct" the entries. But it is equally evident that they have no idea as what can and cannot be "corrected" or how to make corrections.

The worst case is when users ignore the problems with the Family Tree and assume that because it is online and sponsored "by the Church" that someone is verifying the accuracy of the entries. This brings up the first important rule about accuracy in the Family Tree.

Accuracy Rule No. 1:
You and your family are responsible for the accuracy of your portion of the Family Tree.

There is also a tendency among new users to avoid making any edits or corrections due to a fear that they will offend someone else. The entries in the Family Tree come from the accumulation of genealogical submissions over the past 150+ years to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints directly or indirectly. During that entire time, there has been no overall way to maintain consistency or accuracy of those submissions. For the first time we have a way to verify and regularize all of the accumulated information.

There are two layers of "accuracy" and "consistency" that need to become a concern of all of the users of the Family Tree. The first is the accuracy of the information. Are all the names, dates and places accurate and supported by documentary sources? The second level is whether or not the entries are consistently entered into the program. The reason for a consistent entry standard is more difficult to understand than the accuracy of the information itself, but in the long run, a consistent entry standard will become more and more important to maintaining the integrity of the entire Family Tree.

We can only tell if the information is correct by reviewing the supporting sources and asking questions. If a name, date or place is inaccurate by correctly entered and formatted, the only way a user can tell if it is right or not is to review the sources and do any necessary additional research. In many cases the accuracy of the entries is obvious.

Here is an example of an obviously inaccurate entry as indicated by the red warning icon from FamilySearch.

These errors include birth after the mother's death and death before marriage. Here is an example what you see when you click on the red icons.

There are, of course, many other less noticeable errors that need to be corrected from additional research and documentation. Sometimes this type of problem is the result of a simple typographical error. In other instances, these errors are due to faulty research and/or carelessness. Whatever the reason, the entries are incorrect and the incorrect entries affect the accuracy of the entire family and any descendants shown for the families involved.

No changes should be made to the Family Tree when such errors appear, unless the person making the corrections has documented sources to substantiate any changes.

Here is another example of inaccurate and incomplete information in the Family Tree:

Here the entry indicates that Joanna Lewis was born before the father listed in the Family Tree could have children. This is a serious problem and taints the accuracy of all of the family information for this family. Interestingly, in this case there are three possible Record Hints that might resolve this issue with sources. In this case, assuming some of the other information is correct, Joanna's son was born in 1748 and there is likely no problem with the age of her father at the time of her own birth. However, in looking at the Record Hints, there are two different dates for the birth of the son and a lot more research on this family is necessary.

However, the formatting issues are still an issue. In this case, the presence of abbreviations indicate that no one has been working on this family since these entries likely come from submitted family group records long before computerization.

The correction of the Family Tree is an involved and difficult issue. This is just the first in an ongoing series where I hope to highlight how the information and content of the Family Tree can be made more accurate and accessible.

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