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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Survival Guide for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Six

The Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. 

One of the most valuable recent technological innovations is the incorporation of GPS coordinates into online mapping programs. Further incorporation of the GPS into smartphones makes navigating a big city or finding your way out in the desert much easier than it was in the past. After using the GPS directions linked to a mapping program such as Google Maps for a while, you can become almost dependent on the assistance of audio instructions.

On the other hand, there are no audio directions embedded in the Family Tree. There is really nothing even comparable to a map. The best set of directions to the program is a companion website that is not even acknowledged or linked from the Family Tree at all. That website is The Family History Guide or I could just repeat what is completely organized and explained in The Family History Guide, but that is not the purpose of this post series. The idea here is to directly address as many of the issues with the program as possible. Even those who are fairly advanced in using the Family Tree have issues and problems with the program.

Time to start into the issues. Let's begin at the beginning. Here is a screenshot of one variation of the current start-up screen for

If I scroll down, I will get an invitation to start using the Family Tree program.

This is a major step up for the website. Previously, the startup screen was harder to navigate. But if you register for the website or sign in if you are already registered, you will get a different screen. These screens are personalized and custom created for each user.

You may or may not find these features to be useful. If you click on the link in the top menu bar, you can go directly to the Family Tree. You can go directly to the Family Tree and begin entering your own name and those of your ancestors and other relatives or you can use the Family Booklet to get started, either online or on paper. The link to the Family Booklet is in the Family Tree pull-down menu item.

For many users, this may be a better option for beginning a family tree. What I have found is that many users, even those who have some experience, do not realize that there is an easy and somewhat less complicated way to begin adding information to the Family Tree. What I occasionally find is that the "standard" landscape pedigree view that is basic to genealogy is not easily understood or as obvious as it may seem to those who have grown up looking at pedigree charts. It is important to understand that there are alternatives. There are several different views and many people prefer looking at their part of the Family Tree in a fan chart format.

One of the popular complaints about the Family Tree on the support website, (See is the format of the Family Tree. Specifically, the amount of "white space" in the landscape view or the number of details shown for each person. Here is a screenshot of what you might see today for reference.

There are dozens of other options that could be added through icons or links. But in every case, there needs to be a balance between readability and functionality. Just adding functions to a program does not necessarily make the program "better." In some cases, adding more features to a program may end up defeating the original reason for developing the program in the first place. The Family Tree has more information in this landscape view than appears in my own screenshot. The reason is that I have worked over my entries and some of the offerings from FamilySearch are not presently available for this section of my part of the Family Tree. Here is a view with more information in the form of record hints and data warnings.

I am certain that the look of the Family Tree will evolve over time, but I am also hopeful that the screens, such as this one, will not get loaded down with features. There is a balance that must be achieved between the "need" for additional features and the usability of the program. For example, one of the programs with the most features is Adobe Photoshop. The program has hundreds of features and is extremely complex with detailed screens. A person can be considered to be a Photoshop expert if the person knows about 100 of the features. We don't need FamilySearch to keep adding features to the Family Tree unless those features have a general appeal and add real functionality. Of course, Photoshop would not be Photoshop if it was simple and had fewer features. It is aimed at highly motivated and trained professionals. Let's not turn the Family Tree into a professional's program.

Here are the previous posts in this series

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:

No comments:

Post a Comment