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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What are good and bad changes to the FamilySearch Family Tree?

According to my Watch List on the Family Tree, I am watching 289 people. That means that if any changes are made to those people FamilySearch will send me a weekly list of the changes. As you can see from this last week's notice, I had 210 changes to 28 people. By the way, most of those changes are to the same people every week. I review all of the changes every week. I look at the type of change made and who made the changes. For example, the change shown above was made by my daughter. Since the change involved adding a document and was made by a person I know to be competent, I don't have to do anything at all about the change. This is a "constructive" change.

It is the nature of the Family Tree to change. Interestingly, almost all of the complaints I listen to about the Family Tree deal with some kind of change. Those complaints started within a day or two of the first introduction of the program years ago and I just received a long list of complaints from my blog readers about some new changes to the Family Tree. The complaints haven't changed since the first day I began to hear them. I have written dozens of blog posts on the subject of change in the Family Tree on both this blog and on Genealogy's Star. Some time ago, when I started writing this blog, I transferred all my topics dealing with FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to this blog. There is some spillover but this blog deals with issues that are raised mainly for members of the Church and about the Church.

The FamilySearch Family Tree has a lot of users who are not members of the Church. Since the Family Tree is immensely useful for everyone, regardless of their membership status, there are issues that extend well beyond the main focus of this blog. Change to cooperative online family trees such as the Family Tree is one of those issues.

Most of the online family trees are "owned" by one individual. For example, I have family trees on,,,, and many other websites. I am the only person who can make changes to some of those online family trees. Both and are collaborative websites based on the wiki model just as is the Family Tree. The website is somewhat unique in its association with the Church and its open collaborative nature. Because of this association, there are a substantial number of users of the Family Tree that do not have a significant amount of experience with other online family tree programs. There are also many of these people who also have little or no online computer experience beyond social networking and other popular online venues. In addition, the number of people who are interested in genealogy and familiar with genealogical research and who also are on the Family Tree is vanishingly small.

Since the Family Tree is open to the world and because change is part of the nature of the program, there are going to be a lot of changes made that are not constructive. My attitude towards this is so what? It comes with having a program where the benefits far outweigh the annoyance of having changes made to the information available in the program.

The underlying concept of the Family Tree is to collaboratively allow incremental changes to any of the information (data) to thereby increase both the amount and accuracy of that information. Initially, the Family Tree was seeded with a huge amount of information that had accumulated for over 100 years. The core of this information was accurate, but much of it was duplicative or inaccurate. The challenge was to provide a venue where this accumulated information could be corrected and the duplicate information removed. The Family Tree does all that admirably. As more sources are added to the Family Tree it becomes more accurate and therefore more useful. However, the number of changes will not necessarily decrease over time because more information will always become available and more people will be added to the Family Tree.

Good changes add to the cumulative information in the Family Tree and good changes also correct inaccurate or incomplete information. Good changes also provide sources that explain where the changed or added information originated, i.e. a source in Memories or a citation to an outside source. Bad changes are those that remove correct information and substitute incorrect information. Bad sources also include information that is added without a source. By the way, personal knowledge is a source, but most of the time it cannot be validated. But if you don't know where the information came from, it is probably inaccurate. Many bad sources are added to the Family Tree by people who fail to read the information and sources already attached to a person. If a person in the Family Tree has multiple sources, why would you assume that the information already in the Family Tree is inaccurate simply because your unsupported records differ from what is already there?

For example, my ancestor John Tanner KWJ1-K2F has 231 Memories and 96 sources. Notwithstanding this massive amount of information, people still add wives and children and then those relationships are deleted. These kinds of "bad" changes give the whole Family Tree a bad reputation.

The bad changes to the Family Tree are like weeds in a garden. No matter how many times you pull weeds, there are always more. But you don't stop gardening simply because you have to pull weeds.

If there is a real dispute about the identity of an ancestor or whether or not a child belongs in a certain family, then these issues should be resolved through collaboration. Think about it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the theory behind the collaborative tree is a good one, and I have had generally good experiences with people. I haven't quite worked out yet, however, what to do if someone makes glaringly obvious mistakes, doesn't respond to a request for support for the changes, and continues to make them. I don't want to crush anyone's effort to do family history, but there is no collaboration if there's no communication.