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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Survival Guide for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Two -- The Scope of the Challenge

The Family Tree is not the problem, it is the solution. 

Nearly all of the comments both pro and con directed at the Family Tree involve the content in one way or another rather than the operation of the program itself. For this reason, to begin a one-sided discussion about the FamilyTree, it is important to realize that the initial information came from a previous database called that supplied the bulk of the original entries. I have covered this all in previous posts over the years, but a major part of the process of commenting on the huge number of issues represented by the present Family Tree program involves the fact that it is sort of a descendant of the earlier program. The present Family Tree program was originally seeded with the huge pile of records incorporated in the earlier program. This huge compilation of records had a significant number of duplicate records that was rapidly increasing because of the way that the program functioned. Most of these duplicate records primarily consisted of whole databases of duplicate records that had been submitted by those who had been submitting names to FamilySearch and its predecessors for over a hundred years. Beginning clear back in the 1890s, none of the methods that were implemented over the years to reduce duplication actually worked; not only did not reduce the number of duplicate entries, it facilitated their creation.

The crux of what we need to know right now about all this previous history is that hundreds of thousands of duplicate entries inherited from submissions contributed for over more than a hundred years, have been eliminated from the Family Tree but there is likely a huge number left to eliminate. What we also need to know about all this history is that many of the records in the Family Tree are not supported by any source information at all. In my opinion which comes from working consistently and regularly with the Family Tree since it was introduced these two factors outweigh any other major considerations. I consistently see more duplicate entries being added to the Family Tree and I see constant changes that are unsupported by even a modicum of documentary support.

Notwithstanding these serious challenges, the Family Tree is alive and well. Since its inception, I have seen a constant improvement in the accuracy of the entries due to the fact that is a wiki-based program. I also see huge numbers of sources being constantly added to existing entries. According to currently reported statistics, there are nearly 950 million source entries in the Family Tree. As a result of this huge number of source entries, the reliability to the Family Tree has grown and continues to grow at a rapid pace despite its somewhat duplicative and checkered antecedents. The entries in the Family Tree are further supported by about 23.9 million photos and 1.69 million stories. There are about 1.1 billion persons in the Family Tree as of the date of the facts published by FamilySearch for April 2018.

So what is the challenge? As the poet, John Lydgate wrote; "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time." This quote was made famous by President Abraham Lincoln. As it applies to the Family Tree, we will always have those people who are not pleased with some aspect of the program or the data, but right now, the Family Tree is the best program we have to work with. The alternative also exists in the millions of individually maintained family trees on hundreds (if not thousands) of websites.

The challenge that we all face is continuing to build a source-centric Family Tree based on the best possible records that can be found. Fortunately, much of what is now in place in the Family Tree is adequately supported by valid sources and the conclusions are reasonable and defensible. Unfortunately, as the core of validly defensible data in the Family Tree expands, the amount of data that has yet to be entered or that is without any supporting documentation also continues to expand. The comforting aspect of this reality is that what is already entered into the Family Tree is becoming more accurate and thereby more reliable at an increasing pace.

This series will address individual issues confronting the continuing viability of the Family Tree. I do not pretend to have a solution for all of the problems facing the use of this marvelous tool, but I can address as many of the problems as I can see and suggest resolutions where possible. The object of this series is to explore the issues confronting the continued growth and health of the Family Tree and to codify those issues that remain to be resolved. I fully admit that I have neither the experience or the expertise to solve these problems or issues, but I do have the time and inclination to codify them and discuss possible solutions to those issues that are actually impediments to the purpose for which the Family Tree was created and for which it is being maintained.

I am certain that as I keep writing, the main issues confronting the Family Tree will become the focus of most of my analysis. Stay tuned for further developments.

Here is the first post in this series

Part One:


  1. I like FS and I am more than ready to work and clean up the problems. My problem is the constant unsupported changes. No sources or even reasons. Even where there is documentation showing something different.

    I think to make FS work there must be some way to resolve differences like this.


  2. What is one of the easiest source of masses of duplicates in FSFT to shut off? GEDCOM import. What are Familysearch doing about this? Sticking their fingers in their ears and humming loudly.

    Ron Tanner seems to have a bad case of ignorance when it comes to this. I say it's bad case of ignorance because it's persistent and is being retained despite it being repeatedly explained to him what is going on. I could be less charitable in describing the situation, considerably less charitable. It's one thing to say that it would take too many resources to fix this, or that it will be fixed when resources allow. It's quite another to seemingly willfully misconstrue the problem and ignore it. That's what's happening.

    1. Hmm. You seem to have an opinion on this subject. :-)

  3. I have found that the data in FS is better, especially once cleaned up. However, I would agree with David that the GEDCOM imports are a problem. The dates and locations aren't standardized and then don't catch that these are duplicates being added. I'd say either force more edits on the GEDCOM imports or shut them off.

    1. Yes, I have talked to FamilySearch over the years and complained about the ability to add GEDCOM files. The process is rather difficult but it may still cause substantial damage to the Family Tree. That will certainly be one of my topics. This will be a very long series.

  4. The revelation over this which is fairly recent was how badly the comparison algorithm for GEDCOM import is broken. I've done one test and others have done similar tests involving downloading from FSFT into a supported family tree program (Rootsmagic in my case and Ancestral Quest in the case of the other testing), doing nothing to the data in the supported family tree program, exporting the entire database as a GEDCOM and sticking it in the pedigrees section.

    I found that the system missed two individuals in the tree, but even worse it reported an infant who died in 1877 as living and unsuitable for import!!!!! Those who used Ancestral Quest found a far, far higher incidence of missed matches than I did. This was data from FSFT, imported back into the software! If it cannot even match data exported from FSFT then it is worthless.

    That, plus the persistent creation of duplicates, plus the wilful ignoring of the problem by Familysearch is what has stirred things up and got people so heated.

    1. From what you said, I guess you probably know why I am writing this series of posts. There are a lot of issues to address and I will get to the GEDCOM issue soon enough. Just in case there is any question, I have been writing about why having a GEDCOM upload function does not make sense for a long time. With more than a 1.1 billion persons in the Family Tree, there is almost a 100% chance of duplicates from a GEDCOM File of any size.

  5. As I see it, FS is in a very difficult position. On one side is the need for people to have names to do at the temple versus the need for accurate family tree building. This problem is not new. Having recently finished the book "Hearts Turned to the Fathers" it seems this balancing act has been with us from the beginning of the church. With all we are asked to do in the church, it is no wonder that people look for shortcuts which result in duplication and error. I'm not smart enough to figure out how to resolve the problem, so I will just keep plugging away because FSFT is the only game in town for preparing family names for the temple. Unfortunately, I suspect we will see a lot of passionate genealogists give up on FSFT because they are not interested in temple work.