Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New FamilySearch after almost two years, a commentary

Almost two years ago, we were introduced to the New FamilySearch program. Since that time, I have spent a considerable time working with and teaching about, this interesting program. Although, it is still not available to those who do not belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), and not even to all the members yet, the program has had a huge impact on the LDS community.

This post is intended to be multipart and comments are welcome and solicited. Nothing in this blog is in anyway officially sanctioned by the LDS Church and contrary to other bloggers who claim inside information, my sources of information come through official channels and my experience with the program is the same as many other users.

One of the more obvious changes, is the dramatic change in family history activity in our area. As I have mentioned before, I volunteer at the Mesa Regional Family History Center. Over this past two year period, the number of people visiting the Center has increased and the ratio of LDS to non-LDS visitors has reversed. During the past years, about 60% of the visitors to the Center were not LDS members. That number has now changed to about 60% LDS to 40% non-LDS. We have also seen an increase in Spanish speaking visitors. I have heard numbers quoted that indicate that family history activity has increased throughout the Church.

Part of this increase is attributable to the fact that, for the first time, those on New FamilySearch (NFS) can graphically see a representation of their family tree, many for the first time ever. Because NFS is a compilation of the Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index, Pedigree Resource File, the LDS Temple records and membership records, some people who have never done family history research before, have already gotten a significant head start towards compiling a pedigree.

This increase in interest has not been without its complications however. There are essentially two opposite poles in the NFS world; those members who have little or no compiled family history and the legacy or pioneer descendants whose lines contain hundreds and often, thousands of entries. These pioneer families pose a huge challenge to those members who get into the program.

At this point it is important to state that the NFS program works very, very well. The programmers have done a marvelous job of making an interface that is understandable and easy to use and learn. The problems are mainly with the data. Because the NFS database incorporates multiple sources which have not historically been corrected, for some users, there is a monumental pile of misinformation and confusion. Some of the more common issues include incorrect information, mis-identified individuals, wrong gender, lack of correct connections in the family and incorrectly combined individuals. Most, if not all, of the negative comments I hear about the program are directed at this pile of misinformation.

Even living individuals shown in the program may have multiple copies of their information in the NFS file. Commonly, when someone logs onto the program for the first time, their reaction is that the information is either incomplete or entirely inaccurate. This impression is mostly correct. Because each entry may come from multiple sources, the programmers provided for a way to "combine" records in the file. The resulting composite individuals can show amazing variations. For example, (and examples abound), my mother is shown married to my uncle (she wasn't).

The next posts will discuss some of the other challenges created by the NFS program. Let me know your thoughts.


  1. The NFS sounds like it has a lot of "problems"--problems that I wish I had to deal with. Been waiting to be enabled for this for a long time, bugs and all. Thanks for the review/preview.

  2. James,

    I applaud you for sticking to official information. Inside FamilySearch I see plans and strategies constantly evolving and one could waste a lot of worry and effort acting upon inside information. I see problems created when support missionaries shoot from the hip instead of finding the official support article. It is unwise, unlawful, and unethical for anyone at FamilySearch, employee or missionary, to reveal internal information.

    My compliments on a thoughtful article and an excellent blog.

    The Ancestry Insider