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

Friday, April 9, 2010

Using information from New FamilySearch

A few days ago, I had a patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center ask me about a problem she was having with New FamilySearch. She had a huge pile of printouts from her Personal Ancestral File program and was methodically going through each one and comparing the information to that found in New FamilySearch. She was particularly interested in any of the entries that appeared to be incomplete or missing LDS Ordinance information either in her documents or in New FamilySearch. I made an offhand suggestion that her work could be a lot easier by using one of the available genealogy programs (like Ancestral Quest, RootsMagic or Legacy Family Tree) that helps automate the process of copying the records and avoided making handwritten changes to her documents. Before I even finished making the suggestion, she told me off and said she didn't want to learn anything about a program, was not interested in a program and didn't care to further carry on the conversation with me at all. That was the end of my help.

Well, what information does New FamilySearch have to offer? And, is it worth the effort to look at the information that is available? Is New FamilySearch a "source" for genealogical research?

First and foremost, except for being the original source for information on LDS Ordinance dates and places, all of the remaining information in New FamilySearch is derivative and not primary, or even secondary source information. None of the information displayed in the pedigree and individual information views is tied to an actual source. Even though there is a place to check for sources, none of those "sources" listed are tied to any event or information in the main file unless by accident the source information contains a connected reference to specific facts. This is not a new issue. We have lived with the same issues regarding the information contained the FamilySearch Ancestral File and to some extent in the International Genealogical Index (IGI).

Now back to the patron. In the act of comparing the information she had in her file with that in New FamilySearch, I see no problems at all. But by failing to recognize the nature of the information in New FamilySearch, she was in danger of entering a lot of inaccurate or incorrect data into her records, without any substantiation. After looking at the patron's file for just a few minutes, I quickly determined that she was not searching for duplicate records on New FamilySearch and that even the Ordinance data she was obtaining was suspect. When I tried to show her that there may be duplicates in the New FamilySearch file, she wasn't interested. She was intent on filing in the little boxes on her printed Family Group Records or marking them blank and was asking for help because she had come to her first instance of contradictory information. It was not that she wanted to do research to resolve the question, she just wanted me to make the question go away. I could see that I was not going to make a lot of headway.

If the Ordinance data was "missing" from New FamilySearch she was immediately printing up a Family Ordinance Request form and printing the Ordinance cards. Unfortunately, I find the activity, if not always the attitude, duplicated again and again, not just with New FamilySearch but with and many other sites that share users information online.

This instance brought to mind the rule that you must always evaluate any source, even if you are just copying out information, for reliability, completeness, sufficiency and a few other factors I may have overlooked. Especially, in New FamilySearch where the information is not always directly attached to some specific source.

How can you use information from New FamilySearch? First and foremost, it is a program for submitting names for LDS Temple Ordinances and should be used to try to determine if the Ordinances have been done previously to avoid duplication. However, going through the data and simply clicking on green arrows and printing off Family Ordinance Requests will almost guarantee duplication. For those individuals just starting out exploring their genealogy, New FamilySearch is one place to get an idea of what information may have been obtained by other family members. Just as with any online database of family history, there may be leads and clues found by others that may benefit your actual research. But looking through New FamilySearch and copying out a bunch of names is not research.

I am sure I will have more to say about this subject since I am scheduled to help about 60 teenagers get started in New FamilySearch very shortly.


  1. James,

    I totally agree with your post. It is so important that members learn HOW to use New FamilySearch properly so that more duplication and incorrect information doesn't happen.

    I am also very interested in how your experience with helping the 60 teenagers get started with New FamilySearch goes. I just moved into a different university ward, but in the singles ward I was in before I was the family history consultant and I had a hard time trying to think of ways to get them involved with family history. If you have any ideas I would really like to hear them. Please let me know how it goes!

  2. I am not familiar with this program. But the subject of how to influence teens to get started with family history is a good one.

    Perhaps one could require them to watch "who do you think you are" and see and hear their reactions. And follow up with something about research. Like do you know what was in your ancestors past, etc. All the time though reminding them this is about more than those history events.