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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Very Disturbing FamilySearch Family Tree Issue

A recent post by my daughter Amy on TheAncestorFiles blog has the following title: "Individuals of Unusual Size (IOUS)" turns out to be very disturbing. She quotes a support email as follows:

From:  [...]
Subject:  Need Records Merged
Date:  February 27, 2013 9:28:23 AM EST
To:  [...] 
Dear Amy Tanner Thiriot,
RE:   John Tanner  KWJ1-K2F and MMM9-MM1
        Lydia Stewart  M5XK-TBR and LC3X-WJ5
Thank you for contacting FamilySearch Support.  Your concern deals with individuals of unusual size (IOUS) record.  There is not an easy solution at this time.  Currently our database can not handle records of this size. We kindly ask for your patience and understanding until increased functionalities become available in new FamilySearch.  At a future time, the expectation is that you, as the patron, will be able to independently resolve these issues as tools and technology are improved.
FamilySearch Data Administration
The problem is rather simple, almost every family line I have in FamilySearch Family Tree contains these "Individuals of Unusual Size." The implication of this problem, if the response from FamilySearch is correct is also rather simple: I cannot do any further work on Family Tree until this issue is fixed.

Interestingly, it took me about the same length of time to realize that I could do nothing at all to improve the situation in Apparently, has the same unresolvable problem with the data in Family Search Family Tree that exists in This is caused by importing the same data into Family Tree as created and used in For me and others in a similar situation, it renders both programs essentially worthless for adding additional information.

The problem is that there are multiple file copies of my ancestors. This is what is meant by the phrase "Individuals of Unusual Size." Most, if not all, of my direct line ancestors fall into this category. The effect is that the duplicates in the system cannot be merged. This leaves phantom lines and multiple choice lines that cannot be reconciled. So, I can clean up the problems in my line back to my Great-Grandfathers, but beyond that, the program stops working. Although I can see duplicates in the file, the program does not see or allow me to merge the duplicates. So the lines back any further are essentially dead ends as far as any practical use is concerned.

Now, if you do not have an individual of unusual size in your line, you may never have seen the problem. But fortunately or unfortunately, all of my lines come from early Utah and Arizona pioneers. This is further complicated by the fact that my parents were second cousins. As I go back on my lines, sooner or later, I nearly always bump into an ancestor who has a huge number of online submissions.

This problem is not new. I have known there was a problem since shortly after starting to use Family Tree sometime last year. But this message from FamilySearch is disturbing because it states that the problem will only be solved through programming additional features referred to as "increased functionalities." Is there an outside chance this will never happen?

The solution to the whole problem should have been to accommodate the data before implementing the program.


  1. So... what you are saying is that they put a different shade of lipstick on the pig, added more grease to make it more uncatchable, and are trying to pass it off as a NEW game-right?

  2. i totally agree with your posting. In fact, for non IOUS situations in Family Tree, the "Possible Duplicates" is totally dependent on the search engine to identify those duplicates, which it doesn't do in every case. I would agree that Family Tree was released for general use prematurely without adequate testing or full functionality. Confusion and frustration seems to be the result.

  3. As long as Family Tree is synchronizing with we are constrained by the capabilities of When you merge in Family Tree it results in a combine in If the combine fails, then the merge will too. We check to see if this is a problem before we allow the merge to occur - this is one of the reasons why a merge is denied.

    When we complete the necessary transition of some features, then we can stop the synchronization and when that happens the merge will be able to complete. Family Tree was specifically designed to not have IOUS problems.

  4. I'm sorry you and your daughter had a bad experience with IOUSs. I'm one of the FamilySearch engineers directly involved with working on Family Tree merge-related features. You are correct that it is currently not possible to merge IOUSs. This is because currently nFS and Family Tree are synchronized and as you pointed out, nFS would not allow you to combine them either. As soon as we are able to break the synchronization link between nFS and Family Tree, this will no longer be a problem. I asure you this will happen, but the timetable is still somewhat unclear. I would currently give an estimate in months.

    Sadly, I think we've done a poor job of explaining that while merge is a new feature, it is currently still bound by nFS rules. I remember thinking myself that I could clean up some of these IOUSs in my own tree with merge, but soon realized that wasn't true until the synchronization is turned off. We are working hard on this.

    I will point out to answer Anonymous' response that the ability to merge persons by ID without relying on the possible duplicates list will be released in the next couple of weeks. This still won't help IOUSs, but will help resolve that issue.

    I actually floated a proposal internally to raise the limit of combined records allowed in an person to allow patrons like yourself to merge more of their ancestors. However, this proposal was rejected due to the potential negative impacts performance and data wise it may have caused. 90%+ of persons that cannot be merged are because of too many combined records, so we know a lot of patrons see this, but we hope everyone (myself included) can have more patience as we do the necessary work to remove the synchronization with nFS.

  5. Ben, thanks for the update. However, I'm puzzled as to why it is apparently going to be several more months until FSFT is unlinked from nFS. It seems like the synchronization is causing a lot of issues and creating the perception that FSFT isn't working. Why not cut the link now, especially since as I understand it FSFT is shortly going to be available to everyone.

  6. I know it may seem simple to just unlink Family Tree from nFS. I wish it were really that simple, but the reality is that it is not. Without giving all the gory details, I'll just say that there are several things you see in Family Tree that really aren't in Family Tree yet, they are being read from nFS and displayed in Family Tree. There is also the issue that many people are still using nFS either from the website or through a 3rd part affiliate products and the current plan is to allow this for at least several more months. Turning off the synchronization right now would cause even more inconsistencies and problems without addressing issues that must be addressed for Family Tree to fully stand on its own.