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

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Are You a Victim of the Family Tree?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about being a genealogical victim. If anything, I am seeing more people with a victim mentality than ever before. Quoting from my previous post, here is a list of some of the common reactions suffered by those who see themselves as victims:
  • Ascribing non-existent negative intentions to other people
  • Negative, with a general tendency to focus on bad rather than good aspects of a situation.
  • Self-absorbed: unable or reluctant to consider a situation from the point of view of other people or to "walk a mile in their shoes"
  • Exhibiting learned helplessness: underestimating one's ability or influence in a given situation; feeling powerless
  • Stubborn: tending to reject suggestions or constructive criticism from others who listen and care; unable or reluctant to implement the suggestions of others for one's own benefit
My perception of people with a victim mentality comes from years of representing clients as a trial attorney. Obviously, some of the people I represented really were victims and they had valid legal claims and those were the cases I accepted. For every case I accepted, I talked to many people I declined to represent. Nearly all the people who fell into this rejected category had a victim mentality. I can't help people who refuse to cooperate and help themselves.

Now as I think about the complaints I constantly hear concerning the Family Tree, nearly all of the complainers fall into one or more of the above categories. In fact, these attitudes are pretty common with those who are struggling with genealogical research in general. Interestingly, most of the people who have victim mentalities do not accept that their own attitudes are at the core of the problem they think they are facing. In addition, their reactions to the problems are almost always inappropriate and defeatist.

Again quoting from the previous post, here are two hypothetical examples of victim mentality.
Genealogist A who is 84 years old has been working on researching her family for most of her lifetime. When her family members show interest in her research, she becomes defensive and says that her work isn't done and she would rather they wait until she has everything in an acceptable condition. She is persuaded by one of her younger relatives to take a look at the Family Tree. When she is shown the Family Tree she immediately begins criticizing the content. She states that she is not interested in seeing anything more. Since this is my hypothetical, I could have it end the way I want. In the most common real life situation, when A dies, all of her work is lost because no one wants it and no one appreciates what she has done.  
In another hypothetical, Genealogist B is a meticulous researcher. He is certified by one of the major genealogical certification organizations and has exhaustive support for all his conclusions. As in the first hypothetical, he is persuaded to view the Family Tree and is immediately angry. He cannot believe that anyone would make such obvious errors and he immediately starts correcting everything he considers to be wrongly entered. The next time he goes into to view the Family Tree, he sees that someone has recopied all of the "wrong" data back into "his" Family Tree. Rather than make the corrections again or try and contact the person making the changes, he dismisses the program as "broken" and determines that he will simply ignore it. 
The issue arises in the context of those who feel threatened by changes made to the Family Tree and then get immediately discouraged and stop trying to work with the program. In addition, they immediately begin blaming others, including FamilySearch, for the problems they see.

I do not make these things up. Here is a list of links to articles, some from journals, about victim mentality.

Ask yourself this question. Why are there people, like me, who are very much involved in constantly using the Family Tree for their research and data storage? Why don't we just give up in the face of all the changes being made to the Family Tree?

When I get examples of how "they" are ruining "my" data on the Family Tree, the complaints are almost always directed at one or two individual instances. These are the "revolving door" ancestors I have been writing about for some time. Instead of focusing on the other entries that are not changing, the victim uses one or two events to justify quitting. They also personalize the changes as if the people making the changes were intentionally persecuting the complainer. Victims do not see that they can be the solution to the problems they encounter. 

We live in a pervasively victimized mentality society today. Let's try to keep that attitude out of our interaction with the Family Tree. Remember, the Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. 


  1. You might enjoy my old blog with Answers to Geni Skeptics.

  2. I feel like this is a pretty aggressive stance. I don't think that your blaming people who have this mentality is fully accurate. One can wish for changes to Family Search without feeling any of these things.

    Let me give you an example:

    A user kept making my very much alive grandmother dead, assuming that she wouldn't still be alive at 95. This wasn't correct. I kept making her alive, and a user kept making her dead. I contacted Family Search and asked them to "freeze" her so that people couldn't keep killing her. I am her closest living relative, and I told them I would definitely list her death date when she died, but to please not let people make her (and three of her sisters who also kept being killed) dead when they were not. They wouldn't do anything about it, so I moved on.

    I messaged the person who was making her dead and explained that I was her granddaughter and that she was very much alive, as were her sisters. I asked very politely if she would please stop making her deceased.

    The person responded that she could put in any information she wanted because it wasn't "my" tree. I fully understand that it is a crowdsourced tree, yet making someone dead who is alive makes a lot of information about a living person no longer private. Crowdsourced doesn't mean - or shouldn't mean - a free for all.

    I put a tickler in my calendar and consistently went in to raise my relatives from the dead, which wasn't an ideal solution, but because neither the user nor Family Search were interested in any other solution I offered, that was what I did. I feel that there should be a way to make sure this doesn't happen, but I don't fall into any of your categories.
    I don't think the user who was doing this is a bad person. I do think she is ignorant. It's sad that I was almost relieved when my grandmother actually did die because then I could stop fixing it over an over. I think there is likely a better way.

    Desiring an improvement doesn't make me a person with a victim mentality. It makes me someone who appreciates Family Search and would like it to be as useful and accurate as possible. As a member of the Church, I like it to be effective because I share it over and over, and its success is strongly dependant upon the trust people have in it - not that it will be perfect, but that it will continue to improve.

    1. You aren't describing a victim mentality, you are describing the exact opposite. You would be a victim if you gave up the first time there was a change.

    2. However she does highlight on of the real problems with FSFT for which nothing substantive is really done: repeated wrong edits by the same person. What should have happened (after suitable proof of contact with the person doing the wrong edits and proof of her grandmother being alive etc) is that the person making the repeated wrong edits should have had their editing rights suspended until they had completed a remedial genealogy course.

      It's this lack of care over wrong edits to FSFT which does need remedying and does make it too much of a free-for-all.

    3. I agree with David. Correcting repeated wrong edits is only possible when you have the time and energy for that, and when you have a full time job, and living relatives to take care of, you'll loose the 'battle' simply because of lack of time. In other words, the 'bad' persons win, because they have more time, and nobody stops them.
      This is why we have curators on sites like Geni, and why have judges and other mechanisms to protect the weak. And I don't call this a victim mentality, because my disadvantage (time) is real, and the lack of decent protection really makes me walk away from the tree.

  3. I will add that I have had success in getting Family Search to help when I had an ancestor who was wrongly listed as being married to a prophet. I couldn't dissolve the relationship because Family Search had restricted it. When I sent an email with the proof I had of the lack of a relationship, they did change it themselves. That's why I contacted them with the issue with my grandmother - they'd been helpful with this kind of thing before.

    1. One core idea of the Family Tree is collaboration. If you feel like you are alone fighting the universe then you will get discouraged. If you enlist the help of interested relatives and family members, you can get the job done. We approach this from a family standpoint, not as individuals.