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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Finding Francis -- Part Two

Working on the Family Tree is both interesting and challenging. The nature of the Family Tree is that it is an accumulation of over 100 years of un-reviewed and unsupervised genealogical submissions. In addition, much of the information in the Family Tree has been accumulated from traditional surname books and family traditions that lack any supporting documentation. Added to that are a number of extended pedigrees based on pure speculation. The reality is that every family line shown on the Family Tree ends at the point where documentation disappears. Although the lack of documentation commonly occurs with the immigrant to America, the ends of lines can occur at any point where there is no substantiation in adding a child to a family.

During the past few weeks. Substantial attention and research has been conducted concerning Francis Tanner, my fifth great-grandfather. As I pointed out in previous posts, the main point here is the lack of any documentation establishing the parents of Francis Tanner. Tradition would have us assume that a person named "William Tanner" married to one or more of four different wives was the father of Francis Tanner. Interestingly, the posts on the Family Tree do not even accurately reflect the content of the surname books. Despite this obvious lack of documentation, deleting the relationship between Francis Tanner and the then existing "William Tanner" initiated a flurry of contributors adding back in the traditional family line without any substantiating sources.

This opens a real issue concerning the integrity of the Family Tree. Is the Family Tree, as was stated at its introduction, going to be source-centric or is it merely a venue for speculative, unsupported and obviously incorrect contributions? There are no internal safeguards yet established to assure that an addition to the Family Tree is supported by sources. As has been done with Francis Tanner, a user can add individuals without any supporting sources and without birth or death dates or any places associated with the entries. See this entry as it was added to Francis Tanner.

Interestingly, those who are still trying to maintain the entries for "William Tanner" are certain that the person named "Elizabeth Cottrell" had no children with her husband "William Tanner." As I noted in a previous post, my explanations about the need to supply adequate documentation resulted in a complaint to FamilySearch. In effect, the addition of an Elizabeth Cottrell is a duplicate.

There is an obvious need to nurture and encourage contributions to the Family Tree. This includes those who are less experienced researchers. But there is also a need for a balance between allowing unsubstantiated and sometimes imaginary contributions and the nurturing process. This is especially true when contributors claim to have sources but refused to provide them.

Contributors to the Family Tree will eventually have to confront all of these issues. As I have long maintained, all pedigree lines eventually end either because of lack of additional documentation or because research into the existing documentation has yet to be done.


  1. "There are no internal safeguards yet established to assure that an addition to the Family Tree is supported by sources." It seems to me this is a huge issue that FamilySearch has simply turned a deaf ear to. If you look at the posts on this subject on Get Satisfaction, FS's response is always that "Community is the answer" and it's up to other users to patrol the tree and fix all the irresponsible changes. However, this approach is simply naive. Personally, I'm getting a bit tired of users who continually replace thoroughly sourced and documented data with the same old garbage that has been kicking around on Ancestral File for 50 years. Or, who blindly transfer data from their Ancestry Tree without even checking to see if the data is Family Tree might actually be correct. I have had experiences similar to yours where attempts to reason with users who are putting in erroneous data simply leads to an acrimonious email exchange. FS really needs to address this issue and implement some safeguards. If they continue to ignore this issue I think the seasoned genealogists are simply doing to get tired of fighting the battle and abandon Family Tree.

    1. That might happen with some, but we will never give up trying and teaching.