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

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Survival Guide for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part Five -- A Firm Foundation

The Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. 

We have been reading recently about the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It will be partially closed for the next six years or so while the building can be renovated beginning in 2018. Here is what the Smithsonian website had to say about the renovation:
The assessment revealed that “the exterior cladding of the building—the marble façade—was warping and cracking, compromising the integrity” of the whole structure.

Christopher Browne, deputy director of the museum, notes ruefully that many of the decisions made back in the 1970s vis-à-vis its design suggest an inclination toward “value engineering.” And when affordability is prized over longevity, issues down the road are inevitable.
This is essentially what happened with the Family Tree. The components of the database came from years of piecemeal submissions without a proper foundation. I have referenced this book before, but it is still the only authoritative explanation of the ultimate origin of what we now have in Family Tree.

Allen, James B, Jessie L Embry, and Kahlile B Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995.

Rather than go back over the history in this post, I would refer you to a series I wrote some years ago entitled, "The FamilySearch Family Tree -- A Review and Retrospective." Fast-forwarding to today, we find the Family Tree in the midst of its renovation project. Parts of the Family Tree have been completed other parts are still in their original state of disrepair and yet other parts are new construction in a variety of conditions. If you examine the entries in the Family Tree it is easy to tell which are the old construction, the renovated construction, and the new untried and might-be-good construction.

Here is an example of "old construction;" the kind where the walls are falling down.

This particular entry indicates, on its face, that it is "old" and probably unreliable. Here is a list of the indications of age and unreliability:

  • The name of the individual contains an alternative spelling inserted in parentheses. This is a holdover from paper family group records and the alternative spelling should be moved to the "Other Information" section. The fact that this entry still looks this way in 2018 indicates that no one from this family has yet taken the time to standardize the entries. 
  • The entry for the birth information is a little more complicated. We have a birth date, but no christening date. Since birth dates are not generally available in England in the 1600s it is likely that this is either an estimated date or simply a guess. Although it is not visible in this screenshot, this entire entry is supported by only one source which does not give a birth date for William Hamilton or Hambleton. The one source is attributed to FamilySearch and originates from an IGI Record (International Genealogical Index). 
  • The burial date is also not standardized, but there is also no supporting citation to a record showing this date is accurate. But we can assume that the person is deceased. 
There is also a "Legacy NFS ( source. Here is a screenshot of this source. 

This information could all be correct. The person may have been properly identified and all that is needed is a little light housekeeping to standardize the dates and place names rather than renovation, but there is no real way, at this point, to make that decision. 

The real question here is whether or not this structural damage goes deeper and would require more research than simply cleaning up the entry. There are two Record Hints that give additional information but how do I know I am even working with the correct ancestor? Anytime you jump back in time in your pedigree and do not validate all of the preceding entries, you are running the risk of working on the wrong ancestral line, i.e. not your line at all. 

Using the useful "View My Relationship" option, I can see how I am related to this person; if I am. 

This is supposed to be a direct line ancestor.  But are all the steps or links in this relationship chart reliable? Let's see if there is a need to start doing work closer to the present time in a more recent generation. I usually determine whether or not I can rely on the links by starting with the first well documented and verified ancestor and working my way back towards the target ancestor to see if there are supported links. 

In this particular line, the link between Eliza Ann Hamilton, b. 1815, d. 1901, and her parents who are listed in the program is not substantiated by any record presently shown in the Family Tree as a source. There are some documents in the Memories section that show the parents of James Hamilton, but there is presently no support for the conclusion that John Hamilton is the son of Thomas Hamilton (Hambleton) of Massachusetts. There are also no sources connect Thomas to anyone in England. The connection to someone named William Hamilton is entirely speculative. We have nothing connecting either Thomas to William or William to Thomas other than a similar name. 

At this point, we need to realize that despite the fact that this line has been passed down through generations of family members, there is no substantiation at all for the extension of the line into England. As a matter of fact, the Family Tree entries show that William Hamilton (Hambleton). died in England and that his supposed son was born in Massachusetts. Hmm. How did that happen? 

In short, before you start clicking around in the Family Tree, spend some time looking carefully at the entries. You may find yourself doing some research that you did not expect to be doing. 

Here are the previous posts in this series

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

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