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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Using New FamilySearch for genealogical research

New FamilySearch has a huge number of individuals and families. It is an excellent tool for doing LDS Temple Ordinances, but is it useful for genealogical research? The first and most simple answer is that except for LDS Church membership records almost all of the information about individuals and their families is derivative and not primary source material, but the amount of information may certainly be useful.

First of all, New FamilySearch is not yet available to everyone. A significant number of LDS Church members still, as of July, 2009, do not have access to the database. Additionally, people who are not members of the Church likewise do not have access. However, taking into account those limitations, there is still a need to consider the types of information that may be present in this huge database.

New FamilySearch includes a tremendous amount of information. The files that comprise the database come from the following:
  • Church members who have contributed information to the new FamilySearch
  • Ancestral File
  • Pedigree Resource File
  • Temple ordinance records, including the International Genealogical Index (IGI)
  • Membership records of the Church
  • Church extraction programs
Focusing on what these original records contain indicates that there is a wealth of "real" genealogical information in the database and obviously, not all of the information is limited, in any way, to Church members. The Pedigree Resource File (PRF) has for years solicited submissions of GEDCOM from members of the Church and those who are not members alike. I am personally aware of individuals who are not members of the Church who have submitted huge files to the PRF for the sole purpose of preserving their data. Most of that information has been Incorporated. However, only Discs Numbered 1-85 were included in the database. The PRF presently has 142 Discs of information available.

The International Genealogical Index (IGI) has been relied on for years to obtain birth, death and marriage information. But it is not a primary source. Even the extraction records are copies from the original records and have no more validity than any other index.

Careful research includes, where possible, reference to original sources, i.e. those made by the people in question or someone else with had a reason to record the information correctly. I would refer the reader to References for Researching from the National Genealogical Society (NGS). Also the Genealogical Standards also from the NGS.

FamilySearch addresses the issue of the content of the files with this statement:
  • Information that was published in Ancestral File, including corrections, will appear both as it was originally contributed and as it was later merged and displayed in Ancestral File. You will see notes and sources if they were provided in the original contribution. In addition, information and corrections that were never published in Ancestral File are also included.
  • Many contributors provided the same information multiple times to the Pedigree Resource File. They often did this to provide additions and corrections. These multiple contributions have been combined in FamilySearch. If information changed, you will see the most recent version of the information. You will also see notes and sources if they were provided in the original contribution.
  • Information from the International Genealogical Index has also been added to FamilySearch. You can correct the genealogical information but not the ordinance information.
Most important is the note that notes and sources are included in New FamilySearch. In my experience, the notes included can be very useful both in evaluating the accuracy of the information and also leading back to the original documents that may have been used to compile the information.

There is one huge difficulty, presently, with New FamilySearch; multiple copies of the same individuals and families and a lack of consistent source information. If the person who submitted the information either directly to New FamilySearch or through one or more of the previous databases, like the PRF, failed to give any source citations, the usefulness of the information is greatly reduced. The information in New FamilySearch is only as good as the original submission. There is no mechanism in New FamilySearch to determine if information is valid or true.

A further statement by FamilySearch may be helpful in understanding the nature of the information contained in New FamilySearch:

The FamilySearch Internet (FSI) is for research. It contains all the Church’s research tools.NEW FamilySearch ( nFS) is to prepare names of deceased ancestors for temple ordinances. It replaces “Temple Ready” but does not replace “Personal Ancestral File” which is a place to store your personal research records, photos and other personal data you want to keep in your personal records. Although information, including notes, can be added to nFS, it is intended only to help others understand where the information in nFS comes from, not to discuss the merits of the information. This should be done through private resources such as letters, e-mail, etc.

So what is the conclusion? New FamilySearch could be a source for existing information of a research nature, but unless the source material is included with the submission, it is not a particularly reliable source. Certainly no one should download or copy information from New FamilySearch without verifying the information from other more reliable sources.

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