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

Monday, January 29, 2018

Ten Problems With Using Ordinance Crawlers

Ordinance crawler programs are those programs that purport to find temple ordinance opportunities by searching the Family Tree. I returned to this topic because a popular version of one of the programs was prominently mentioned more than once in talks given during a local Stake Conference meeting. Evidently, those advocating the use of these programs are unaware of the nature of the Family Tree. All of the programs operate on the premise that the information in the Family Tree is correct and reliable. In fact, there is no basis for such an assumption. The accurate parts of the Family Tree are those where people have recently been working and correcting the existing information. These parts of the Family Tree are also the least likely to contain green icons indicating the availability of temple ordinance opportunities.

After attending the conference session, I went back to our apartment and downloaded the app mentioned in the talks. I ran the app for quite a while until it found the first reserved ordinance after examining 5888 names. The person found was already on my reserved list. As I began to analyze the situation, I decided there were, at least, ten good reasons why these programs were more of a problem than a solution. Here I go with my list of reasons why I think these programs are a very bad idea run amuck.

Now, I am not saying that these programs never find valid temple opportunities. There is always the possibility of finding a valid need for temple ordinances just sitting there in the Family Tree. But even if the opportunity appears to be valid, there are some issues that are not obvious and all such opportunities need to be validated.

1. The ordinance crawler programs all assume that the family links in the Family Tree are accurate which is not the case. 

As I have written many times before, the Family Tree is a conglomeration of all of the family history work submitted by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others outside of the Church for over 150 years. Over the past few years, those of us working on cleaning up the entries have spent a huge amount of time and effort correcting and adding sources to support the entries in the Family Tree. We are far from finished with this work of correcting the entries. Many of the entries and links between individuals, especially those dating back more than 200 years, are either inaccurate or simply entirely incorrect.

How do I know they are inaccurate? Because I can look at any portion of the Family Tree and go back on any ancestral line and fine totally inaccurate information including children born after the death of one or both parents, mothers having children at a very young age, such as three years old and so forth. Not all of these errors are marked by FamilySearch with red icons. Some of the errors are less obvious but only require a minimum amount of research to correct. One error connecting one child to the wrong parents can result in an entire ancestral line being wrong.

Note: As I was writing this post, I kept the ordinance crawler searching. The second name it found was descended from a person in the Family Tree who had two wives and ten children listed and every single child listed was born after the death date listed for the father.

2. Ordinance crawler programs tie up online resources that could better be used to speed up the website on Sundays and other days. 

What the developers and users of ordinance crawler programs do not realize is that their programs use up a huge amount of computer resources continually searching through thousands of names. This is one contributing factor to the "slow down" seen while using the website on Sunday afternoons. Some of these programs search the Family Tree for hours at a time.

3. The ordinance crawler programs are a substitute for research that would add individuals and families to the Family Tree.

I have taken the time to research some of the names supplied to me by the ordinance crawler programs. In every case, I find unverified or obviously wrong links leading up to the conclusion that I am related to the specific individual found by the program. This may not be true for some users, especially if the links shown are quite recent and if relatively few of the ancestral links have been discovered previously. But the real tragedy here is the fact that additional research usually corrects the deficiencies and provides more viable and supported and entirely new people to add to the Family Tree. This is an opportunity lost on those who are fixated on finding the "easy" names which are usually unrelated to the person using the ordinance crawler.

4. Because they present the Family Tree as a place to look for ordinance opportunities, the ordinance crawlers discourage real research.

As I examine each of the ordinance crawler programs, I note that there is no mention by the programs of the fact that research into original, historical records will produce many more opportunities than the superficial ones that are already on the Family Tree. Since our family has been coordinating research into historical records, many of which are now available online, we have added hundreds perhaps thousands of people to the Family Tree. Each of these additions is completely supported by sources to carefully examined historical records. Clicking on the start button of an ordinance crawler is no substitute for actual research.

5. The number of ordinance opportunities that are "just waiting" for someone to find are decreasing every day. 

I was able to do research and find so many temple ordinance opportunities that recently I began unreserving the names on the temple list so that others who could find validly researched names to take to the temples. But even with this type of addition to the "green icons" with the ordinance crawlers allow people to harvest hundreds of names at a time, the number of green icons is dramatically being reduced. What will happen when the programs cannot magically produce green icons?

6. There is no emotional connection to a person who is only known by a line of unfamiliar relatives.

If one of the purposes for doing genealogical research is to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, how can this happen when the name is simply produced with a line chart showing a distant relationship? Attending the temple can be an uplifting experience but taking a name that is produced by a program does not particularly add to the experience.

7. Ordinance crawlers reinforce the idea that FamilySearch somehow manufactures temple opportunities.

It is not unusual for me to talk to members of the Church that somehow have the impression that FamilySearch is doing all the work to locate their ancestors. We have had people come into a Family History Center and ask to see their family tree, expecting that someone somehow has already done the work. This idea is reinforced by ordinance crawlers that give the impression that FamilySearch or someone else is doing all the work and, of course, they don't have to do anything but click and print.

8. Many of the ordinance crawler apps are commercially created and involve an advanced fee-based level. is a free program. There is absolutely nothing wrong with add-on programs that are commercially based and charge a purchase price or annual fee, but for a Church leader to tacitly endorse such a program in a Church meeting seems to contrary to the intent and spirit of doing ordinance work in the temples. Most of the ordinance crawlers have a free component, but most have an advanced version that costs money. I think this distracts from the entire concept of FamilySearch as a free program.

9. Ordinance crawlers are not like training wheels on a bicycle, there is no incentive to learn or do more. 

There is an undercurrent of ideas about family history that it can be caught like a cold or the flu. You don't catch a case of family history. Competent researchers may have a variety of backgrounds but they have some things in common. They all have a desire to strive for perfection and a large measure of tenacity and persistence. They also spend years and decades doing research. Some learn to read foreign languages and old handwriting. Others become familiar with obscure record sets. Trying to make genealogy/family history into a simple activity that can be done with no preparation and little or no effort denigrates the time and effort spent by these valuable human resources. Why should I spend a year of my life digitizing records so someone can ignore those same records and find a name to take to the temple in a few minutes with no involvement in the records I digitized?

10. Let's face it family history is a difficult, time-consuming avocation. It is a disservice to our tradition as family historians to reduce the activity to a mindless clicking of buttons. 

Do I sound put out? I hope so. Enough said.


  1. I cringe whenever I hear these programs being promoted as "all you have to do to take a name to the temple" by local leaders with little or no experience.

  2. I have to say that I've had quite the about-face in regards to this topic. So here goes my most likely, long explanation. I sat through a Sunday meeting where the youth presented enthusiastically the benefits of using one of these ‘ordinance crawler’ apps. I sat there with my nose turned up, but in the process witnessed many people in the audience downloading the app on their phones and getting quite excited about it. That same week I decided to go show and teach my high school granddaughter more about FS Family Tree and in the process, she showed me the latest, greatest ‘ordinance crawler’ app that they had been using in their ward. I decided to take a deep breath and look closer at her results. I was surprised as most were from her non-Pioneer lines, with surnames that I mostly recognized. I went into FamilySearch to examine closer and they were valid ordinances. I’m not saying that this would be everyone’s experience, but it was mine. My granddaughter at this point has no interest in attaching records and cleaning up person pages, but she is interested in ‘finding family names’. No longer are great-grandma or grandpa’s ordinances available to do, or even their siblings and parents. Closer family temple work began in the mid 80’s and wrapped up in the last few years. I doubt my grandkids would be emotionally connected even if they were available, but they do think it’s pretty cool to do names in the family lines and ‘view the relationship’.
    Several other recent experiences, which I will spare you the details, have led me to the thought that I am not the ‘Family History police’ and my role is to be encouraging to anyone no matter how small or large their Family History efforts are! Every effort should be applauded. I spend an inordinate amount of time on FamilySearch and will continue to do so, because that is what I love to do. Frankly, that’s probably one of the reason’s my granddaughter’s ‘ordinance crawler’ app worked this well - but I am for people going to the temple and no effort should be made to feel ‘less than’. My accountant told me he had no interest in Family History, but in the next breath he said he was the #1 indexer in his stake! And he’s also the Bishop of his ward. This research stuff can be so intimidating by many and we need to exercise a whole lot restraint sometimes and not become Family History police. End of rant. :)

    1. I hope I am not coming across as a Family History policeman. If I am, I will rethink the whole process. But I still have the same opinion about the programs. I thought that the idea of family history was to find our ancestors? Yes, we need help in doing all the work we are creating, but if we are going to take any random name why not just continue the extraction program?

    2. If they did continue extraction, maybe I could retire from genealogy and do something else after 36 years.

  3. No, I am not directing the police reference to you at all - but just the term I use lately in the overall birds eye view of what I even see myself doing. Family History is multi-faceted and I think our goal should be inclusion of everyone that is trying to get involved. If someone uses an app and goes to the temple, so be it. If someone wishes to learn how to research, all the better. I just don’t see that happening on a large scale. Everyone’s journey is different. Family History should be fun (and I’ve always seen it as such) and I see my role now a little differently in that I need to approach it in a way that could possibly draw more people in. That’s what these new Discovery Centers are all about. Getting people connected to their families and in the process, making eternal differences – and having fun!

    And no, there's no retirement in your future. :)

  4. "If someone wishes to learn how to research, all the better. I just don’t see that happening on a large scale."

    In that case you don't see genealogy happening on a large scale. You MUST learn to research if you're going to do proper genealogy. The reason I say you must learn to research is that if you don't learn to research then one of two things will happen:

    1. You won't make any substantive progress and you will come up against what you consider to be "brick walls" which someone who knows proper research techniques will likely be able to go through with little to no problems. If this happens then you will get frustrated and stop attempting to do genealogy.
    2. You will appear to make substantive progress, but in reality what you will be doing is filling the Familysearch family tree or your own private tree with junk and nonsense. If this happens then others will get frustrated with you and might stop doing genealogy.

    To my mind outcome two is the far worse option as it causes others more work to sort out the junk and nonsense and potentially causes frustration amongst those who actually know what they're doing.

    I'm not saying that learning to research is a massive task. I'm not saying that learning to research involves a lot of archival visits. I believe that I know how to do research properly, and I've only ever been to actual archives a few times. To me learning to do basic research properly involves the following:

    1. Learning how to apply the rules of logic and deduction to situations;
    2. In the modern world learning how to effectively search computer databases;
    3. Learning that you need to apply geographical and historical context to your work;
    4. Learning little tricks like what the most common ways something is mis-spelt or mis-transcribed or mis-read;

    Learning numbers 1 and 3 will help to avoid the vast majority of junk information that plagues genealogy. It will mean that no longer will a series of children in a "family" in the late 18th century show Boston, Boston, Boston and Boston for the christening places, with Lincolnshire, Massachusetts, Yorkshire and Eure, Normandy (yes there really is a place called Boston in Normandy) as the jurisdictions of those various Bostons.

    Those four steps are not hard, and yet they are taken by so few people. Indeed step 4 is an optional extra that makes you vastly more effective since it means you will be able to think laterally and work out what mistakes might have been made with the names of your ancestors.

  5. After using a "web crawler" to examine my tree on Family Search... I see that some of James' points are VERY valid! Several of the names I found were duplicates {needed to be merged... not have temple work done} Or in TWO cases, it was an added spouse asking for sealing work... when that spouse was never married to the one it was attached to.

    His most valid point it #6. "There is no emotional connection to a person who is only known by a line of unfamiliar relatives."

    Isn't THIS the most valid reason for doing Family History?? I "get" that temple work is important, but having your heart "turned" is an experience EACH OF US needs to have happen to us... and not just ONCE, but over and over... and the result of that is to WANT their temple work done. Not just place their names in the que and "get er done". That wasn't the design of our Father in Heaven... he wants us to know our people... like he wants us to KNOW Him!

    Web crawler programs can be very helpful IF they further your research and cause you to look at each one more carefully... but finding a name and taking it straight to the temple is a cheap imitation of what the REAL experience is about.