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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Real Issues with the FamilySearch Family Tree Continued

Yes, I am back to the post I just wrote about "Is there really a fundamental issue with the Family Tree?" One of my regular commentators and a few others have made comments that greatly expand on the issues raised in the original post. Because the original post and the subsequent comments raise such important issues dealing with the Family Tree, I decided to continue writing about these topics.

Because the comments are so extensive, I will simply highlight quotes from the comments and then respond with my own commentary.

Comment Quote "I have detached a completely empty source, and re-attached a number of US census entries"

This quote goes to one of the most basic but contentious of the Family Tree; the ability of any user to make changes, additions, corrections, and etc. to any of the entries in the Family Tree. This is the real distinguishing feature of a wiki-based program. As I have written several times in the past, historically, genealogists have been mostly solitary, individual researchers. They are not used to operating in a public forum or collaborative environment. They also have a tendency to believe that their own conclusions are "perfectly accurate" and disbelieve that anyone else is competent to understand what they are doing. So the "changes" made to the Family Tree are upsetting and threatening to their worldview of how genealogy should operate.

Here, an "outsider" is able to make changes to an entry merely because he or she wishes to do so. This is easily the most persistently made complaint that I have had to contend with throughout the existence of the Family Tree. This brings us to the next comment.

Comment Quote: Much of the trouble people have stems from a lack of historical background, a lack of understanding of parts of Family Tree, a tendency to assume the worst of other people, and refusing to ask, “Why?”

OK, this is a multi-part quote. Some of these comments may apply to some people. There is a general lack of awareness of the historical background of the people in the Family Tree. There is also a general lack of knowledge about the Family Tree and specifically about how and why it works so well. I also see a significant number of people who assume the worst about those making changes. I find the opposite. Most of the people who I deal with on the Family Tree are simply trying to help. They are either apologetic or embarrassed when I explain what they have done. I don't find much collaboration or cooperation outside of my own family, but that is mainly a function of the size of the Family Tree and the small number of people who actually work at cleaning up the entries. 

Comment Quote: Family Tree [originates] from multiple different databases created from multiple different computer programs from multiple different decades for multiple different reasons with the goal of not losing any information it was inevitable that a certain amount of static would accumulate through the multiple conversions of the data.

I guess static is a better term than garbage, but the effect is the same. Before getting upset about the information in the Family Tree it is a good idea to analyze where it came from. Was it user submitted? And even if it was user submitted, did the user simply copy some handed down copy of an accumulated family history? If you realize that the Family Tree is the composite of over 100 years of accumulated genealogy, you can begin to see that even as people make "corrections" what they think is "correct" can come from unverified information they inherited from family members. There is still a huge amount of this type of information in the Family Tree and even more, sitting on family group records and other programs waiting to be used to "correct" the accurate information in the Family Tree. 

It is extremely easy to determine if the information either already in the Family Tree or that has been added is accurate or verifiable. If there is no source given for the information, it has to be assumed to be unverified and very possibly inaccurate. 

Comment Quote: Considering history, would one rather have no sources transferred, trust an automatic, illiterate computer routine to discard certain sources, or have all the sources transferred and need cull them oneself? I think the third was the only viable option and I’m glad FamilySearch programmers choose that.

I very much agree with this comment. 

Comment Quote: Hmm, this pertains to a lot of comments about using the term Jr.

Depending on the time frame, the term Junior, abbreviated Jr., does not imply a relationship between the parties. It was commonly used to distinguish between two people with the same name living in the same community based solely on age. It is not appropriate to add this as a suffix or title or whatever unless you a record showing that the person was given the name Junior at birth or used it during his lifetime. By the way, adding Roman numerals such as I, II, III etc. is also a really bad idea. Again, unless this found in a source record about the person while they were alive, it is not part of a name and should be avoided. 

Comment Quote: Nothing done since complete implementation of the Change Log is lost. Every bit of information the person ever had and everything ever done to the person is there. Admittedly, it is not always the easiest document to wade through but the information is there.

Again, I completely agree. You should not be worried about losing information. But, it is a really good idea to have your own separate program if you have a tendency to worry about such things. 

OK, I will probably come back to this again, when I have more time to address the rest of the comments. 

Remember: The Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. 

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