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

Monday, July 29, 2019

An Analysis of the Weekly Change Reports for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Weeks Seven and Eight

It seems like is only sending out an email with the report of changes to the Family Tree every other week. But, I can still go to the list of changes on the website and see all the accumulated changes since my last blog post. Please note, that I now have 302 people on my watch list. I count 146 changes listed on the Changes to People I'm Watching list and 158 on the email so the email list is now likely for two weeks. The total shown on the list from the website included dates that I have already tabulated.

I should mention that since this post is cumulative, there is no real reason to go back to the previous weeks. By the way, tabulating over 100 changes takes a considerable amount of time, not to mention the time it takes to correct any of the changes that have been inappropriately made. Assuming that a person was actively trying to maintain his or her portion of the Family Tree, they would spend a considerable amount of time spent just reviewing and correcting the unsupported changes. It is a pity that FamilySearch can't simply increase the requirements for making changes to include a mandatory source or reason statement. That alone would greatly decrease the number of changes.

Another major issue can be noted from the following report. The majority of the changes are to only a very few individuals. There should also be a warning level that when a certain number of changes are being made to an individual, that further changes are either slowed with more warnings or stopped until the person is examined by someone competent to manage that person.

Here is the latest report that only took a few hours to produce. The most recent changes are now in red.

Out of now 410 consequential changes there have been 356 made without a source or explaining why the change was made. The percentage of changes without supporting sources is holding steady at 87%. This means that if you are watching any number of people on the Family Tree you can expect to have changes made at that rate. Think of the huge waste of time involved.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Family History Library Restricted Records

For the past few years, has been digitizing its microfilm collections. The idea was to replace the physical circulation of microfilm rolls. The distribution of microfilm has now long since been terminated. Apparently, the effort to digitize all the records in the Granite Vault in Little Cottonwood Canyon outside of Salt Lake City, Utah is still ongoing. In addition, there are just over 300 digital cameras operating around the world digitizing millions of additional records.

Somehow, I got the idea that by digitizing the records, the images would be available on the website. It is true that millions upon millions of those images are now available and some of them are even indexed. Back when I was ordering microfilm, ultimately, I could order it online and have the film shipped to a nearby Family History Center where I could go and view the microfilm. Apparently, this system, in some cases, has just substituted the digital images for the microfilms and I still have to go to a Family History Center or even to Salt Lake City at the Family History Center to see the digital images.

For example, some time ago, I made a long list of all of the records I am searching in the state of Rhode Island. I recently went back through my list of microfilms and have found almost all, but not all of the microfilm rolls, have been digitized. However, with only the exception of the few Rhode Island records that have been indexed, every record I checked in the catalog has been restricted. Apparently, FamilySearch has been unable to obtain permission from the original record-holders to allow the now digitized microfilm records to be viewed on the website outside of a Family History Center or the Family History Library. This is especially true of the very old records going back into the 1600s. I might mention that the books that contain compiled records are more accessible but the books do not have copies of the original records.

I fully realize that I am in a vanishingly small minority of researchers who are searching unindexed records from the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries. So I decided to look at the old records in Massachusetts in the event that the issue was only with Rhode Island records. There are exponentially more records in the Family History Library Catalog for Massachusetts than there are for Rhode Island. I found many of the older Massachusetts records freely available online from home. Too bad my ancestors lived in Rhode Island.

Maybe the problem is Rhode Island, but it does seem that we are still in the transitional period when many of the records are still being processed and some are only going to be available in Family History Centers or at the main Family History Library. It would be very helpful if the Catalog showed the availability of the images in the catalog listings. As it is, I have to click on each entry to find out if the records are available online or only in a Family History Center or Library.

It's not too early to start thinking about RootsTech 2020
There are actually two upcoming RootsTech Conferences to think about and plan for: London from October 24th to the 26th, 2019 and Salt Lake City from February 26th to the 29th, 2020. I have personally attended every RootsTech conference since its inception in 2011 except in 2018 when we were serving a FamilySearch mission at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland.

You might be interested in this history of the RootsTech Conference from the Wikipedia article on RootsTech:
RootsTech is an outgrowth of a conference started at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The manager of Conferences and Workshops, Bob Hales, noted that their long running "Annual Genealogy and Family History Conference" held at the end of July each year was experiencing incredible interest in a track devoted to technology in genealogy. In 1997, Hales met with a local accredited genealogist and technology enthusiast, Alan Mann, to ask for his help in creating a new conference, breaking it off from the Annual Conference. They decided to hold this new conference in March of each year so as to avoid conflict with the July Annual Conference. The first event was held March 1998 and drew 400 paid attendees. By 1999, the second Computerized Genealogy Conference drew more attendees than BYU's Annual Genealogy and Family History Conference, coming from 49 states and 3 countries. Several strategies were employed to accommodate more attendees, including offering the same classes in evening sessions, expanding to other buildings (one of which involved transport by vans), and freeing more meeting rooms by moving exhibitors out of meeting rooms into the hallways. By 2001, the conference organizers turned away hundreds of registrations each year. In 2003, the only national competing event, GenTech, was cancelled, leading to further demand for the BYU Annual Computerized Genealogy Conference. 
Over the years, other events were organized to be held a day or two before this annual conference to take advantage of the attendance of exhibitors and developers from around the world. This included the Family History Technology Workshop which displayed and discussed developments in technology for genealogists and the FamilySearch Developers Conference. In 2008, the LDS Church's Family History Department became co-sponsor of these events and the search began for a new venue. The 2010 National Genealogical Society Conference was scheduled to be held in Salt Lake City. With cooperation from the local Salt Lake City NGS sponsor, the Utah Genealogical Association, the Family History Technology Workshop, and the FamilySearch Developers Conference, the Computerized Genealogy Conference organizers met with NGS and proposed a combined NGS conference and Computerized Genealogy Conference, which was held in April 2010. The event was highly successful, and led to plans to move the Computerized Genealogy Conference to Salt Lake City for future events. The name of the conference was changed to RootsTech. 
The first RootsTech was held in February 2011, drawing around 3,000 people. It was held again in February 2012, drawing 4,500 people. It was decided to move the event for 2013 to late March, and it drew 6,700 registered attendees and over 13,600 remote attendees. RootsTech had become the largest genealogy and family history conference held in North America. Many attendees and vendors came from other countries around the world. The 2014 event was moved to February, at the Salt Lake City Salt Palace. Nearly 13,000 attended the 2014 RootsTech Conference in person, with over 100,000 remote participants. 
The 2015 RootsTech was held February and Laura Bush and her daughter were keynote speakers. Over 25,000 people were reported to have attended the 2016 RootsTech from 50 US states and 30 countries. In August 2018, RootsTech announced they would also hold a RootsTech conference in London, UK, in October 2019.
By the way, Brigham Young University also holds a Conference on Family History and Genealogy every year in July.
I will be teaching three classes at this year's BYU Conference. There is also a BYU Family History Technology Workshop which is usually scheduled the day before RootsTech on the BYU campus.
The Workshop really is for technology and I have presented at several of the Workshops in the past years. You have to watch carefully to see when the call for papers and other information about the Workshop shows up on the website.

You also need to be aware that there are a number of one and two-day conferences in the Salt Lake and Utah County area every year. Some of them have been held for many years in the past. You have to search carefully to find out about these local conferences. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Significant changes to the FamilySearch Family Tree Memories App

There have been quite a few changes made to the Memories app and I decided to make a short video to introduce the changes. I will be following up with more in-depth videos about the Memories app and other parts of

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Come to the BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference

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Registration is still open for the 51st annual Brigham Young University Conference on Family History and Genealogy from July 30th to August 2nd at the BYU Conference Center in Provo, Utah.

I will be teaching three classes (up from two) at this year's conference. Here are my classes:

James Tanner, MA, JD A Step by Step Approach to Using Genealogical Cluster Research
Wednesday, July 31st at 1:30 pm

James Tanner, MA, JD Finding the Family Farm: Using Maps and Gazetteers to Find Your Ancestors
Friday, August 2nd at 2:45 pm

and a new class for The Family History Guide substituting for Bob Ives, on Friday, August 2nd at 8:30 am.

For a while in the past, the BYU Conference Center was under construction. If you came to the Conference during the construction period, you will be relieved to know that the construction is all finished and there are no parking or construction problems. The new addition is public transportation almost to the front door of the Conference center in the form of the UVX Bus line that connects to the Provo Central FrontRunner station.

Here is a link to the schedule:
If you have been overwhelmed by RootsTech, I suggest that this is a more personal and manageable Conference plus you get the benefit of being on the BYU Campus and could visit and research at the BYU Family History Library in the evenings. If you need help at the Library, you could always find or call or email me and I could help you.

Even if you don't attend any of my classes be sure to say hello.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Still Waiting for those Golden Years: Organic Gluten

I recently ate in a restaurant that had a long list of options for food allergies and preferences. Each option had its own icon and each menu item was marked with a string of icons. The list ran the gamut from gluten to peanuts and some that I had never heard of. I once took an entire family out to dinner and one of the children had several severe food allergies. It took us quite a bit of negotiating to arrive at a restaurant that was acceptable to the family. Well-meaning friends in the past had given the child food containing peanut products and that oversight had landed the child in the hospital. It was interesting to see the contrast between the restaurants that were entirely unaware of the problem and the one with the long list of options.

Having helped raise seven children, I am well aware of food preferences. We also have first-hand experience with lactose intolerance and some food allergies. But I am concerned that the appropriate reaction to some real and serious food allergies and intolerances are being clouded over by inappropriate adoption of fad intolerances. Two terms that have become overworked are "gluten-free" and "organic." Here is a short summary of the first issue with gluten:
Gluten intolerance is often mistaken for celiac disease, but they are separate conditions. Celiac disease is a severe autoimmune disease, and it can damage a person's digestive system.
Unlike celiac disease, however, it is unclear why the symptoms of gluten intolerance happen, but it does not appear to involve the immune system or damage the gastrointestinal or GI tract.
People also, sometimes, mistake gluten intolerance for a wheat allergy.
A wheat allergy can be life-threatening, as some symptoms can impair breathing or cause a loss of consciousness, which is not the case with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
The symptoms of gluten intolerance are less severe than celiac disease or a wheat allergy, and people know much less about the condition.
The problem with self-diagnosis of gluten intolerance is that the symptoms all have other very common causes. Deciding you have a medical condition after reading a list of symptoms is a dangerous practice. One basic way to determine any type of food intolerance is to keep a detailed food diary that lists all of the foods eaten and any adverse symptoms. Because the symptoms are common and both gluten intolerance or celiac disease are relatively uncommon, it is important to seek medical attention before automatically eliminating gluten from your diet. Meanwhile, the labeling appearing on almost any kind of food stating that it is "gluten-free" is creating a false impression of the incidence of the problem.

I am guessing that most people do not know the technical and medical reasons for "gluten-free" labels and this is especially true when the labels are on products which could not possibly contain gluten such as rice or beans. The problem of having a proliferation of labels saying "gluten-free" is that people begin assuming that the condition is more prevalent than it is in reality.

One other new alarm is even less defined than gluten-free and that is labeling various foods as "organic." The term itself is meaningless. All plant and animal-based foods are organic. What the term has come to mean is a bundle of assumptions that do not necessarily have to be at all consistent. However, there is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) definition that is scattered over a number of publications. These various rules and statutes are summarized as follows:
Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. The organic standards describe the specific requirements that must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before products can be labeled USDA organic. 
Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.
The requirements and regulations vary from product to product. The real issue is that there are no regulations for using the term "organic" in advertising or labeling. The real issue is whether or not the product has a USDA Organic Label. If you want to start learning about the meaning of the organic label, here is a good place to start: "The USDA's Meaningless Organic Label."

If you believe you have a food allergy, get proper medical evaluation. If you think it is worth spending more for organic food, take the time to learn about what you are really getting for your money. Here is a statement from the above-cited article to get you thinking:
At the release of the final national organic standards, then–Secretary of Agriculture Dan
Glickman declared, “Those who want to buy organic can do so with the confidence of knowing exactly what it ist hat they’re buying.” But a few sentences later in the same speech he emphasized
its meaninglessness: 
Let me be clear about one thing: the organic label is a marketing tool. it is not a statement about food safety. nor is “organic” a value judgment about nutrition or quality.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Your work on the FamilySearch Family Tree will never be "Done"

Some processes and activities and our lives on earth all have a definite beginning point and an end. Genealogy changes with every new birth and never really ends. I suppose you could take an apocalyptic view and claim that genealogy would end if the world were destroyed but that is not something that I can integrate into my plans for the future right now. Of course, this topic comes from so many people who say that their family history is all done. 

The answer to the assertion that the work in the Family Tree is all done comes from a simple geometric progression: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. Whether or not you can individually identify a certain ancestor, even a parent or grandparent, is immaterial to the reality that everyone has two parents. As far as identifying close relatives, DNA testing has added a new dimension to the age-old genealogical problem of adoptions and foundlings. The DNA experience now entails finding connections with relatives we never knew existed.

Of course, the geometric progression of the number of our ancestors is dwarfed by the number of their descendants. Even allowing for pedigree collapse, the number of potential relatives is immense. 

But the true issue is a practical one: how far is it realistically possible to extend a family line? All record streams ultimately end. Governments cease to exist and records eventually disappear. In working with people over the years I have heard claims of family trees with tens of thousands of individuals and even hundreds of thousands. After spending almost 38 years examining, researching, correcting, standardizing, and working over my own family lines, I find it harder and harder to believe any verified claims to huge pedigrees. I also commonly find such claims to be, for the most part, founded on name extraction methods, where the "researcher" copies names by surname from records without regard for establishing documented relationships. I have yet to examine any family tree with verifiable extended pedigrees in Europe going back before 1500 A.D. I do know of individual Chinese or other Far Eastern genealogies that go back over 2000 years, but these genealogies usually fail to record any female names and have limited references to descendants.

One good example of the overwhelming number of possible relatives is the number of my DNA matches on the website. As of the date of this post, I have 8,485 DNA matches and I do not know more than a handful of these living people who are apparently related to me. In addition, most of these people do not have a family tree on the website that would enable me or the program to identify even our common ancestors much less all of those relatives we have in common. In fact, the number of potential DNA matches is more than double the number of people I have in that particular MyHeritage family tree.

My portion of the Family Tree has one or two verified family lines back 13 generations to where I would have 4,096 potential grandparents. We can only guess at the number of descendants those 4,096 people might have today.

OK, here is my challenge, if you want to know if your genealogy is all done and you doubt my explanation of why that is not possible, I suggest you give me about half an hour of your time examining your pedigree and I will show you where your lines realistically end and where you could do more research. Simple.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

FamilySearch adds ability to edit Indexed Records
For some years now, many genealogists have been asking FamilySearch for the option to correct indexed records. From the very beginning of the FamilySearch website, it has been obvious that some of the indexing was either inaccurate or wrong. Although finding the correct record when the indexing is wrong as possible, without a way to correct the indexing subsequent searches do not find the correct record. This announcement for FamilySearch adds a whole new level of functionality to the website.

 As shown in the Blog post above, when you search for an individual and there is a digital copy of the record available, you can now edit the information that is in the index. Here is an example screenshot:

Here is a screenshot of the edit screen:

The reasons for correcting the index can be either that the name is wrongly indexed or that it is wrong in the original document. The new feature also allows you to highlight the name on the indexed document.

 Although the error rate in indexed documents is very low, this new development from FamilySearch will immeasurably aid the search process.

This feature is long overdue but very useful now that it has appeared.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Is Genealogy really a Worldwide Popular Activity?

It has been a while since I addressed this topic. I usually get started writing about the popularity of genealogy when I see a reference to family history being one of the top pastimes or hobbies in the United States, but in this case, my motivation for addressing the issue once again arises from the promotions coming from the large online family history and DNA oriented companies. I am not denigrating genealogy in any way, I just think that the subject of doing genealogical research needs to be upgraded from a pastime to a serious pursuit on the same level as any other academic study such as engineering, linguistics, or medieval studies. Genealogy got a bad rap when kings and other self-important people started trying to justify their positions through descendancy. Obviously, this has been going on almost since the world began. Every ruler wants to support his or her rule by showing that they are somehow more entitled to be a ruler than the rest of us. Likewise, the proliferation of all sorts of societies whose membership is based on the identity of the members' ancestors and try to show that belonging to their organization grants some sort of increased status in the world. These organizations do preserve some historical documents, but membership is limited to "proving" a particular ancestry.

The wave of DNA testing is following some of the same patterns started by the descendancy organizations by identifying your "ethnicity" and making a big deal out of what percentage you are of different countries or areas' population while currently only marginally supporting any real genealogical research.

Presently, how do we know if someone has any qualifications to be a genealogical researcher? There are two major organizations that have qualifications for membership and grant their members the right to use "professional" letter designations but very few of the people that I regularly work with have bothered to obtain any of those letter-based certifications and I know a lot of really competent genealogical researchers. I also personally know some fantastically well-qualified genealogical researchers and some of them actually have organization letters after their names, but many do not.

I do not think anyone should judge the popularity of genealogical research by the numbers of people who sign up for an online genealogy website or take a genealogically related DNA test. Neither of these activities says anything about the person's degree of interest or competence in the subject. Likewise, there are huge numbers of people whose "genealogy" is on the large websites who have never even signed in to look at what is there. For example, some of the large online genealogy websites have millions of readily accessible public records from sources in the United States. I can sit down with a person who has never seen one of these websites and within a few minutes find a list of every place that person has lived in the last 50 years or so and find his or her parents and grandparents almost instantly.

The fact is that doing research of any kind is a technical, learned activity. Some people have innate talents that assist them in being "good" researchers but the only way someone learns how to do research is by doing it. Some schooling, including advanced university degrees in just about any subject, will help but competency in research is a bundle of skills that are learned over time. You may see a child prodigy who can play the piano at age three or four, but you will not see a child prodigy who can manage a major research project like those commonly encountered in searching historical documents for your ancestors.

What does all this mean to the average person who is interested in finding their ancestry? It simply means that there is a lot to learn and to seek help from knowledgeable researchers. But it does not mean that by putting a few names in an online family tree and taking a DNA test makes anyone a researcher.

Why would anyone want to do genealogical research? Good question. The answer is simple. Why would anyone do research of any kind? Research is a major component of all advanced academic pursuits. It is also a major component of most technical occupations. In my own background, putting up a beginning family tree and taking a DNA test and then thinking you can do genealogical research is like being called for jury duty and assuming you can give legal advice. Family trees and DNA tests are social activities with some questionable value, but they are not the basis for doing genealogical research. Don't misunderstand what I am saying, a DNA test, for example, will provide you with some information and it may be a valuable tool for genealogical research, but it is not doing genealogical research to simply take a DNA test.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A New Paradigm for the FamilySearch Family Tree

The FamilySearch Family Tree is undergoing a paradigm shift that is a new way of looking at participation by individuals. The shift was initiated by the implementation of the Ordinances Ready app that was introduced back in 2018. The major part of the fairly new Ordinances Ready program is the emphasis on individuals, including now some 11-year-olds, obtaining their own ordinances for attending the Temple. There are several reasons for such a program. First and foremost, Ordinances Ready is designed to increase member patron activity in the Temples while working away on the backlog of previously submitted names which are involved in a major backlog for some categories.

But another major side benefit from this emphasis is the fact that temple activity is increasing in those Church units where the leaders have emphasized temple work using the Ordinances Ready app. The app allows people who are genealogical research challenged to find their own family names and take those names to the Temples. If the members using the app care to do so, they can see exactly how they may be related to the person whose name is supplied by the program.

For those who are doing primary research and finding family names for Temple ordinances, the new app removes any pressure to build a huge list of reserved names. In fact, it has been discussed that FamilySearch may limit the number of names that any one individual can reserve. Another benefit of the Ordinances Ready app is that young users can print off their own Temple names for trips to the Temple and their own name shows up as the patron. Presently, if I supply names to my grandchildren, my name appears on the printed Temple ordinance card. With Ordinances Ready, the younger family members can now print their own cards with their own names as the patron.

Are there any side benefits of the new system for those of us who have been adding names to the FamilySearch Family Tree for a very long time? The benefits to those doing research on their family lines benefit in a number of ways from the program. We no longer need to feel obligated to build a huge list of reserved names simply to supply family members with names for the Temples. Those of us who realize the benefits of the program also realize that there is no point in building a huge list of reserved names, any names we find by doing research more than those that we can readily take to the Temples ourselves should be released to the general pool of Temple names. Right now, there is a huge backlog of temple names in some gender and ordinance categories that have already been shared with the Temples and are waiting to be done. Ordinances Ready will help to chip away at that backlog. Realizing this is happening, I have been trimming down my own Temple list by doing the ordinances or sharing them with the Temples or simply allowing the Green Temple Icons to remain in the Family Tree for others including those using the Ordinances Ready app to find.

Now that I have had some experience with the Ordinances Ready app, I am seeing the possibility of some side benefits that may or may not have been intended by those who designed and implemented the program. For many years now,  promotion of researching and adding names to the FamilySearch Family Tree has tried to be as inclusive as possible. Frankly, this emphasis on universally working with entries in the FamilySearch Family Tree is self-defeating. One side result of the emphasis is that many people feel the need to work on adding names to the Family Tree without adequate knowledge about genealogical research and rather than adding appropriately identified new people to the Family Tree, they spend their time creating duplicate entries and making other errors. It is a laudable goal to try to make a family tree that can be developed by universal involvement, but the reality of genealogical research is that it is extremely difficult and in many cases, changes are inappropriately made by those who are not sufficiently sophisticated and knowledgeable to work with the entries.

This fact should not be taken as an elitist view of the FamilySearch Family Tree. Genealogy is not simple and despite simplified programs promoted in the past, it ceases to be simple once you get back more than one or two generations. There are multiple ways for people to become involved in family history that does not involve doing genealogical research in original records. Programs such as Ordinances Ready solve some major issues with the present huge backlog of names. People who participate with Ordinances Ready can feel like they are making a difference. Meanwhile, let those of us who want to learn about genealogical research, do our job. It seems apparent that we can produce more names than the rest of the Church can do.

In addition, there should be an emphasis on those who do not have their first four generations in the Family Tree. Much of that can be added from memory or family records. It is time to let us do our job and help those who are just beginning but genealogical research is not something that can be universally done by everyone and never has been.

An Analysis of the Weekly Change Reports for the FamilySearch Family Tree: Weeks Five and Six

For some reason, I stopped receiving my weekly reports from FamilySearch listing the changes to my Watch List so this summary will be significantly larger than the last one I highlighted. However, I can still get a list of the changes from the people I am watching by using the List generated by the FamilySearch program as you can see above.

I watch 301 people in the Family Tree. Every week I get a report from FamilySearch itemizing all of the changes to all of the people I am watching.

Here is the updated cumulative list of changes for the past two weeks. There were a total of 78 changes.

The percentage of unsupported changes was slightly down to 87%. But it looks like this is going to be a pretty average number of unsupported changes. I am still going to add in the dates for the people on the list, but I did not receive a mailing from FamilySearch for the last two weeks and so I had to play catch up with the list.

I am guessing that, over time, the number of unsupported changes to the Family Tree is going to be about what it is now at approximately 87%. What can be done to drive that number down? I suggest that requiring a written reason for any change will help. You can see from the list (click on the list to see it enlarged) that most of the changes are focused on a very small number of individuals. On this list, only five individuals had more than 10 changes and the five individuals' changes, with on exception, we all unsupported. So the issue of changes in the Family Tree could be greatly improved by requiring a source or reason for all changes. I suggest also adding a required reason statement such as "State why you are making this change." It would also help if a source for making a change was a required field.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Discover, Gather, and Connect Your Family
Scott Anderson and Angelle Anderson from The Family History Guide and Merrill White of FamilySearch gave a fabulous presentation at RootsTech 2019. Their presentation shares several ideas that will help members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engage their families to discover, gather and strengthen their families through family history. Many of the ideas shared by the Andersons and a lot more are readily available in The Family History Guide section on Activities.

The LDS Sessions from RootsTech 2019 have appeared online and are ready to view

Monday, July 1, 2019

An Update on Understanding the Changes in the FamilySearch Family Tree

Genealogy is primarily a very personal activity. Recording the history of your family whether by oral history, diary, journal, or entries in a Bible or other family book is also a cultural activity. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have also inherited a set of unique religious doctrines that provide some motivation for being involved in family history. But we often do not recognize that recording family history (genealogy) is a worldwide cultural activity that has operated throughout history. Members of the Church who have only heard about "genealogy" through the channel of the Church's doctrine and instruction are often surprised that people "outside" the Church are even aware of or interested in genealogy. The common thought process is "I am not interested in doing my genealogy despite the teachings of the Church so why would someone outside the Church be interested."

Even though the Family Tree has now been freely available as a family history tool, many members of the Church have yet to even open the website and look at their part of the Family Tree and a significant percentage of the Church membership has less than four generations of their family information on the website. However, there were approximately 70,000 people who crossed the Plains and are defined as "pioneers." The descendants of these pioneers constitute a sizable percentage of the present-day membership of the Church. Much of the accumulated genealogical information that ultimately seeded the Family Tree came from the pioneers' descendants.

This reservoir of information included a hodgepodge of family history with a lot of entry-level genealogy primarily passed down through families sprinkled with the work of a few dedicated genealogists. There was no standardization or review of this massive amount of data. In addition, by its very nature of the sources tapped for this reservoir, there was a huge amount of duplication. When this huge data set was finally incorporated in the Family Tree, it contained a cross-section of all possible levels of genealogical expertise.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that all of the family history that was accumulated since pioneer times was included in the Family Tree, a lot of duplicate and poorly researched family history still resides in the paper and old Personal Ancestral Files that are still circulating out there among those descendants of the pioneers. When one of the recipients of this information decides to look at the Family Tree, they immediately see differences between what they have received from their traditional, hand-me-down, genealogy and what is now been put into the Family Tree. Without knowing anything at all about genealogical research, adding sources or anything else useful, they dive right in and start adding and changing what has been done now for years.

Those of us, like me, who have every family line traced back to pioneers already have a massive cleanup project and that cleanup is complicated by the flow of information from the preexistent reservoir from years past.

How you view family history or genealogy determines the extent of your involvement. Genealogy can be viewed as a casual pastime or hobby or it can be viewed as a complex activity requiring several professional-level skills. It is true that "everyone" can become involved in family history. Everyone can learn about their ancestors' lives and come to appreciate their ancestral heritage. But relatively few people work to acquire those professional-level skills inevitably necessary for more than casual interest.

In the past, those individuals with a casual interest in genealogy and those who acquired the necessary skills to do more intensive research lived in completely different worlds. However, even highly skilled researchers did not always document their sources or provide consistent entries. Much of the professional level effort was directed at compiling articles and books about particular family lines for publication and perhaps hundreds of thousands or even more of these books have been published. For example, I probably spent the first twenty years researching my family before I had any serious interaction with a professional-level genealogical researcher. I do remember meeting one at the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library but that was only a casual meeting and it was the first time I had ever heard of anyone being a professional genealogist.

I think the situation is pretty much the same today. The main difference is that today we have the internet and genealogy has moved from a very personal and even private persuasion to being a very public and popular activity. Although most of the people who are interested enough in genealogy to order a DNA test or start a small online family tree still have never met or worked with a professional-level genealogist, they are now thrown together in close virtual proximity online.

The basic structure of the Family Tree is a wiki and that means changes will happen. Presently, I am trying to determine whether or not the idea that a wiki structured database format for the Family Tree will ultimately end up with an accurate end product. Over time, that should be the case but with the overburden of pre-existing pioneer information always out there and being passed on from generation to generation, it seems like the task of cleaning up the entries is going to require some non-wiki restrictions to keep the bad information from continually recycling.

It is evident that the Family Tree is becoming more stable in parts, but there are areas where the changes are so prevalent that there is no control of the information even when well-researched, documented information is easily obtainable such as with descendants of the Mayflower and other such areas with a huge amount of activity from the reservoir of traditionally obtained information.

Meanwhile, those of us with large segments of ancestral information in the Family Tree will just need to become accustomed to "correcting" the changes. I assumed that this process would slow down over time, but now, after years of working on the Family Tree, I see the same or higher levels of changes over and over again as new unsophisticated users are attracted and who have inherited their "information" from their pioneer families.

There are some new tools arriving on the scene, such as the ability to synchronize a complete family tree from that give me a glimmer of hope, but for now, I will just keep plugging away at pushing back on the changes.