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

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Organizing Your Family's Use of the FamilySeach Family Tree

The Family Tree is entirely collaborative. Every registered user can add information and individuals, edit existing information and individuals, delete their own entries and add or delete relationships. Over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion, when it comes to the Family Tree, that most genealogists take the attitude that they are in some sort of battle with their own family members. They commonly view any changes as a threat and additions, at best, as a burden and, at worst, as a travesty.

Part of this attitude arises from the belief held by many that whatever they add or change is absolutely true and accurate, while what others add is always false and inaccurate. While it is true that there are a lot of inexperienced and occasionally sloppy contributors, but by and large, most of the contributions and changes are based on some kind of belief as to their appropriateness and accuracy.

When working with the Family Tree, it is imperative that you remember the origin of most of the information. The Family Tree is a conglomeration of over 100 years of individual, unsupervised and unreviewed submissions to FamilySearch and a long line of its predecessor organizations dating back into the 1800s. Many of the potential contributors to the Family Tree are using copies or original family group records that they have inherited from their ancestors or other family members. Many of these contributors are acting under the false assumption that because what they have in their files was used for submitting names to the temples, that somehow these inherited records are accurate per se. It does not occur to the uninitiated contributor that the information in these personally acquired records is not at all accurate or verified.

In addition, FamilySearch has implemented a very useful system of record hints. These hints are, for the most part, very accurate and helpful. But, again, some of the less sophisticated users assume that FamilySearch is infallible because it is the "Church" and add these record hints without reviewing the content even when the information supplied is obviously inappropriate.

There are also a very small number of users who are simply entirely incompetent and continue to make inappropriate and unsupported claims simply because they either will not or cannot act reasonably. There is no real solution to this problem but there are ways to limit the damage done to the Family Tree by their actions.

How do we solve all of these problems at the same time? Is a solution possible at all? Yes, to both questions. To start, we need to break our old habit of isolation and overcome our feelings of ownership. We do not own our family's genealogy. We are merely contributors to a commonly owned pool of information. Our efforts to discover the information, no matter how time-consuming or extensive, do not create any claim that supersedes any other family member's interest in and to the same information.

Once we have begun to accept the fact that the only way we can ultimately progress in our genealogical research is to fully cooperate with all of our extended family members; we are finally in a position to begin to address the seemingly random and insolvable issues confronting us in maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree.

Most of us will initially find that we are still the only member of our family that seems to have any interest in working on the Family Tree. This is an illusion perpetrated by our former isolation. If we examine the list of changes for any one of the individuals in the Family Tree, we will immediately see a ready-made list of possible allies among our family members.

We may be surprised to find out that some of these people are not only interested in the Family Tree and in our jointly held family history, but are very highly competent and perhaps even more experienced than we ourselves are. In my own experience, I have found some professional level genealogists who are actively involved in some of my family lines. Of course, not all these people are willing to join in a cooperative effort, but you will begin to find some that are willing. I am fortunate to have several of my children and their spouses who are very actively involved and interested in working on various issues in the Family Tree. They have been willing to collaborate and work jointly on the issues involved. Additionally, we have begun to pool our Temple Names lists so that younger members of the family can do some of the ordinances. We have created an online, shared spreadsheet to maintain a list of available ordinances for the family. In our case, this is necessary because they live all across the United States.

In addition, the Family Tree provides a way to monitor any changes. If you watch an individual and anyone makes changes to that individual, FamilySearch will send you a list of the changes made every week. I always review these lists carefully. They are also a good source of potential assistance from family members.

It is also a good idea to maintain communication with your family members about any research issues or inaccurately added information. If you have a group of people working on maintaining the integrity of the Family Tree, the workload is much easier to bear. If it is possible, you can progress to the point where specific research assignments can be agreed upon. In this way, our own family lines have been progressing at an increasingly rapid rate and new individuals have even been added to our "brick wall" ancestral lines.

In all this, the Family Tree has proved to be a marvelous tool for supporting this high level of cooperation. We can literally work with family members who are living across the country in real-time and see each other's changes and additions as they are made, assuming we remember to reload our pages periodically. This real-time collaboration has opened up new collaborative opportunities and made the entire process a pleasure and a blessing.

We can use Google+ Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, texting, email and the telephone to talk and maintain continuity in our research efforts.

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