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

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Impressions of New FamilySearch -- A Commentary

In a major development, New FamilySearch (NFS) has extended its availability to those outside the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Recently, Randy Seaver of the Genea-Musings Blog gained access to the program and began a series of Blog posts relating to his experiences. He has opened up a discussion about NFS and invited comments. I suggest that comments are in order. Please visit Randy's Blog post to see his original comments.

In this Part 2 of this series, Randy goes to the heart of the issues genealogists have with NFS; the lack of documentation of sources, the duplication of entries and the inaccuracy of the information. He has already, after just a few days, realized that there is not adequate way to correct obviously inaccurate information. All of the entries for a single individual are listed with equal priority and equal validity.

Taking an example from my own line, my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner KWC2-8DC, is shown as born in Lakeside, Arizona in about 1859, an historical impossibility, while at the same time the accurate information, that he was born on 11 June 1852 in San Bernardino, Los Angeles, California is also listed. There are nine different birth date entries and only one of them is correct.

A commentator to Randy's Blog identified as MilesMeyer, points out that you can "correct" the data by added even more data to the file and then choose the "correct" information in the "Summary Screen." Although technically correct, this explanation begs the entire issue raised by Randy in his post. I believe that his major concern is not that additional information cannot be added, but that there be some way to "fix the erroneous data." It is not enough to merely have a way to point out what one person believes to be the correct data from a list of clearly inaccurate information, there needs to be a way to remove (or at least segregate) inaccurate information in way as prevent it from being duplicated.

After documenting a number of inaccurate duplicate entries for his ancestor, Isaac Seaver, Randy notes:
It appears that there are at least six entries for my Isaac Seaver in the New FamilySearch Family Tree.  None of them have the correct birth, marriage or death data for Isaac Seaver, although there are some entries that are correct.  The one entry with a death date is wrong, and that entry has a wrong spouse (the person named is actually Isaac's mother!).
Randy asks three questions:
*  How did all of these entries occur?
*  How do we merge the different entries into an entry with documented and sourced information? 
*  How does someone with the correct information for my great-great-grandfather fix the erroneous data? 
The answer to the first question is fairly easy. NFS is a conglomeration of several large databases; the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File, the International Genealogical Index, the Church's membership records and Temple records. Some of these databases already had a large number of duplicate entries when they were combined. Add to those databases the user added duplicates and you have an explanation for the duplication. The inaccuracies come about as a consequence of poor genealogy, carelessness, lack of concern, and just plain ignorance.

Answering the next two questions is much more difficult. There is presently no way to merge the different entries into "an entry with documented and sourced information." As I stated above, that is one of the main problems with NFS. The answer to the last question is that you ignore the problem until NFS gives you the tools to do something about it.

It is apparent that some of the commentators to Randy's Blog have not yet experienced making additions and changes many times only to have them revert back to inaccurate information many times. For some entries, there is no point in making additional changes because it is now impossible to select the correct information. I will explain why in my next post.

Randy's experiences with NFS are consistent with those of nearly every experienced genealogist I know. I hope FamilySearch is really ready for the additional commentary.

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