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

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When is a source not a source? In New FamilySearch?

Thanks to the Ancestry Insider for going to the Riverton Saturday Seminars to report on a presentation from FamilySearch. Obviously the presentation and the report leave a lot of questions unanswered. To quote the post, "Cross said that even though they will be called sources, they might be understood better as source links. Source links will allow you to create links in Family Tree to sources found on or other websites such as The URL is optional so the system will replace the tree’s existing source system." So I guess the answer to my question in the title to this post is that a source is not a source when it is a link and when that link is apparently optional.

For the past few months I have been waiting to see which direction I will take in building an online family tree. I have tried a few of the different programs and have definitely decided against using a commercial online program for the simple reason that no matter how large they are, I have little faith in their permanence. I also have no faith that my descendants will pay the rental fees. That leaves me with the suggestions made by's Brester Kahle, that the next best choice is a non-profit website run by some sort of foundation. I have been waiting for New FamilySearch to resolve some key features before trying to make any more changes or whatever and work with that program. has the potential to be a superb online resource but it has some fatal flaws. The first fatal flaw is the inability to make corrections or changes to information online submitted by others, even if those who submitted the information are now long dead. There is a limited ability to become a legacy owner of some of the information, but the process only works if you have only one or two dead contributors, not hundreds. The second fatal flaw is the lack of sources. It now looks like that problem will not be solved in the near term and maybe never. I might be wrong, but it doesn't sound like a solution from The Ancestry Insider's comments. Theoretically, there are already sources built into the program, but it is impossible to tell which fact the source belongs to and whether or not what is there is actually a source or merely an acknowledgement that the information was copied from someone else.

The other major issue with New FamilySearch is the amount of duplication and the potential for that duplication to continue. There is an extremely low threshold for submitting information and I am still seeing duplication increase in my immediate family lines. In one instance that I talked about recently, someone or more than one person, added more than 17 generations of duplicate names to the end of my Tanner line.

The source and duplications issues are major.'s Family Trees also have source capability, but sample a few dozen trees and see how many actually have source citations. The answer is almost none. Other online family tree collections, such as or provide for sourcing but have problems with duplication and lack of sources, plus, to put on as much data as I presently have would require an annual fee. I recently received an invitation from an erstwhile family member to join a family tree on The problem was that the invitation cited the common ancestor's information incorrectly. That was not a great incentive to join.

So, contemplating the options, I had determined to wait for New FamilySearch to solve some of the issues. As soon as FamilySearch solved some of the problems, my plan was to go in an work through the information, making corrections and adding source citations. The bonus would be that I might be able to add digitized documents and photographs. It now looks like that the anticipated changes may be a long time in coming or may never come.

A side note. My own genealogical situation, although not unique, is not a major issue with online family tree programs, including New FamilySearch. Almost none of these online programs cater to the advanced genealogist with tens of thousands of names. New FamilySearch is a wonderful program for someone starting out to research their genealogy for the first time. It simply doesn't presently work as a repository for huge databases and perhaps never will.

Meanwhile, I am turning my attention elsewhere. I will continue to support New FamilySearch, and certainly teach and encourage people to use it, but for my information, I am looking at the online family tree wiki programs, such as, as a solution to my online storage.


  1. I don't think there is a long-term, online solution. FamilySearch appears to be bogged down in complexity and size and forgotten the KISS principle. I have been indexing for several years and we've been told that we will be able to sign on to NewFamilySearch. But I can't yet. The website invites registration, but once registered, you can't sign on. I too have been looking at WeRelate, but my concern is survivability. I'm afraid the ultimate answer is not online but paper.

  2. I am sure your disappointments with is shared by many, and will be shared by many more if the database is opened to public view.

    The matter of "sources" is indeed at the core, but not their absence. The database was compiled mainly from "sources" in the form of family group sheets submitted over the course of decades. For many individuals and families there may be a combination of a dozen or scores of these. There is no way to ~delete~ even the most egregiously erroneous of them. The allowed process of de-combining these merely promotes a plethora of duplicated individuals with various combinations of erroneous vital details.

    The genealogical horrorshow is lack of evidence presented by nearly all of these FGS sources. From this standpoint, the plan to allow links to other "sources" with no evidentiary specificity seems a greatly wasted effort. Any guesses as to how many of these links, in a few years' time, will be to other non-evidentiary trees?

  3. @JimGill - I too would like to know when nFS general public registration will result in a login account. I had heard it would be the end of last year, but maybe they need to make more progress on some of these issues before opening the platform wide open.
    James, I find when reading your blog that I tend to agree with your general conclusions about nFS Family Tree (that makes me wonder if I should have been a lawyer):
    -As geolover already pointed out, dealing with FamilySearch's legacy databases (i.e. AF) necessarily meant that the problem of sourcing would get worse before it gets better - it's just what they 'inherited'.
    -I do like that ancestryinsider reported that nFS has mentioned referencing 'sources' from other platforms. In summary, I think nFS is making steps in the right direction. I believe the future of making nFS better will follow the pattern of 'consolidating' all these 'unsourced assertions' to reduce the unfortunate duplication and at some point I would like to see REQUIRING a source for future assertions so that previously duplicated information doesn't continue re-infiltrating the tree.