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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

How Stable is the FamilySearch Family Tree?

First, here are a few statistics as of the date of this blog post.

There are a total of 4.35 million total Family Tree contributors. They have uploaded 22.61 million photos and 1.62 million stories to the Memories section. There are 910 million sources attached to the entries and 1.2 billion records in the Family Tree. As as a side note, there are 9.63 million registered users on the website. 

If you have the perspective of the number of users vs. the number of complaints about the Family Tree program, you might just begin to understand that for most users the Family Tree works very well. The main venue for "complaints" and suggestions is the website section dedicated to Here is a screenshot of part of the page dedicated to the most popular topics of discussion about the Family Tree:

The most popular topic had its last reply over 4 years ago. Almost all the discussions have less than 25 participants. Many of these topics have gone for years without any additional comments or replies. Now, if you think about it, with that many people involved in one unified, collaborative program it is amazing that there are really so few real issues. Yes, there have been a few serious issues involving the data, but the data is mostly the main issue, not the program.

There is still a long way to go before all the old entries will be corrected and updated with sources and standardized entries. But, the work that has already been done is immensely useful and provides an almost endless supply of work that can be done.

So who is complaining? My experience is that there are two main detractor groups; those who are working on remote ancestors who lived before 1700 and those who are upset with the changes per se and are fixated on the "bad" changes. Both of these groups are not likely to ever be satisfied with the program. What we have found is that the changes are manageable. We also find that as sources and Memories are added, the entries become more stable. But by and large, the entries we have worked on are stable and have few changes.

Now, if you have a relative that is a "loose cannon," just watch all the entries and keep changing things back the way they are supposed to be. Patience is a virtue.


  1. To minimize the changes, there are several things that I have found to be effective.

    1. I make sure every person I work with on FSFT is fully sourced with citations that can be used to locate the original record, not only with sources from FamilySearch Historical Records, but also from other sites as well as material that may not be available online. I also add whatever stories exist about that person and provide sources for those stories. The more information I can include, the less likely someone will come along and make changes.

    I make sure that every conclusion (fact) that is in a person's record actually applies to that person and I have included my reasoning why that conclusion is the right one. Remember, there is no room for speculation, which is not fact. If I am unsure about some aspect of a person's life, I put that information on the person's page in notes, discussions, or even as a story, especially if an old well-worn family tradition is involved.

    2. Every time some one makes a change or merge that I feel is incorrect, I use the FamilySearch message system to leave them a kindly written message as to why I feel that what they have done does not apply to that person. If they have not provided a source or a reason, I try to remind them that sources are crucial to establishing conclusions and facts, and that a person's reasoning is needed to let others know what research and thinking was done to reach the conclusion.

    3. I am prepared to not receive a response from the person. They have the choice to respond or not respond. I try to always thank them for adding sources, making corrections, and helping reduce the number of duplicates. If I had to clean up the record, I let them know what I have done, along with the reasoning behind my corrections.

    4. I am well aware that not everyone works with FSFT every day or extensively, so there are many different levels of knowledge being applied. I try to help others understand things like the differences between primary and secondary sources and that published family and locality histories often contain errors and are not sourced. I let them know that unsourced material needs to be treated as hints, not as facts.

    By taking an active part in working with a few of my relatives, I have found that bad changes either stop, or slow considerably. To track what changes take place, especially with critical persons in the tree, I put them on my watch list.

    The most gratifying part about taking an active role, I receive thanks from those who made changes, especially since I go into great detail about what I know of the person and their immediate family, the area, and the families who were neighbors to our common relatives.
    Tom Huber (Old Timer Too)

    1. I very much agree. We use almost the exact same tactics and find that changes virtually disappear except with people back in the 1600s.

  2. Nice post James. With all the people I help with's Family Tree, I find that most of them have not had anyone change their data. Then there are those who don't want to use it because they "heard" someone will change their data. I see more problems from what someone "heard" than the reality of actually using it. I love Family Tree!

    1. Thanks Holly. Interesting comment, I hadn't thought about it but I realize that is probably the case.

  3. The screen shot you posted from getsatisfaction is quite deceiving. It just lists which posts got flagged with the most stars. Looking at it, you wouldn't think much was happening on the feedback boards.

    However, to the contrary, the board is very active. I would guess it averages over a dozen new posts per day. Most concerns are quickly answered by other users. Most posts don't get, or need, more than half a dozen answers and most don't get "starred."

    I will agree that having just over 18,000 participants on the board is a tiny fraction of the users of FamilySearch, but its corps of active participants do a great job answering questions and giving assistance to the people who post a question or concern.

    Over the years I have been part of it, many suggestions posted there by users have been incorporated into Family Tree. Also, many problems have been reported and fixed. For example, just today someone reported a problem in how a date got standardized, a couple of other users confirmed the problem, someone from FamilySearch acknowledged the problem was real, and nine hours later an update fixed the problem.

    1. Thanks for keeping me track. Yes, GetSatisfaction is the go-to place for resolving problems. My point was that the actual number of real problems is far less than the number of complaints by people who really never use the website.