Development of a database, that would become New.FamilySearch.org (NFS), for storing personal genealogical information by FamilySearch began in 2001. The first Beta test of the new program took place in 2007. The New FamilySearch program was released in stages, first, only to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and later to selected individuals outside of the Church. Introduction of the New FamilySearch program was done in stages by LDS Temple District. By the end of 2009, most of the Church members had access to the program.
New.FamilySearch.org was originally seeded with data from five different sources; the Ancestral File, the InternationalGenealogical Index, the Pedigree Resource File, Church membership records and Church Temple records. Unfortunately, combining all of these sources of information resulted in a monumental problem of duplicate information. Additionally, the program did not allow the users to change any of the information in the file and errors and duplicate information proliferated. Whenever a change was made to the file, the older, sometimes incorrect, information was preserved along with the correction. Some of the individuals in the file ended up with hundreds of duplicates.
With the addition of user data, as people began adding information to NFS, there was even more duplication of records. In some cases, the pedigree lines became hopelessly tangled with both correct and incorrect information. From the perspective of members of the Church, this was a serious problem because the NFS program was the primary method of submitting LDS Temple ordinances. From a genealogical standpoint, it was a problem due to the inability to correct a pedigree line in some cases.
Sometime after the initial introduction of New.FamilySearch.org, there was a discussion about the impact and problems with the New. FamilySearch.org website and development of a replacement program, to be called Family Tree, was started. Family Tree (sometimes abbreviated FSFT) went to Beta test in 2011 and was introduced in substantial form at RootsTech 2012 in February of 2012.
Family Tree has the structure and a sound methodology to solve nearly all of the problems faced by the NFS program. However, both of the programs share the same database. So all of the duplicates in NFS have been inherited directly into Family Tree. In addition, because they are looking at the same database, any changes made in either program initially showed up in both. As Family Tree has continued to be developed, features in NFS have been selectively "turned off." Most recently, NFS's ability to combine duplicate records was eliminated.
That brings us up to the present. There are residual problems with some of the data in Family Tree inherited from the database established for NFS. These problems apparently cannot be resolved until NFS is shut down and ceases to add data to the common database. Hence the significance of the announcement that there is a schedule for this to happen. Why is this important? There are a number of levels of importance, most of which apply to me personally and to many other people who depend on the Family Tree/NFS programs for information about out ancestors.
This issue also important because of true "One Tree" concept imbedded in the structure of Family Tree. It has the promise of being extremely valuable for advancing research. In addition, in situations such as my own, there is over 150 years of accumulated genealogy that is contradictory, inaccurate and very confusing. Having a viable Family Tree program holds out the promise of being able to make progress in sorting out the mess sometime in the future. This will not be possible until NFS is shut down.
That is the answer to the question in the title of this post.
Now, the effect of shutting down NFS will have some consequences that are interesting, to say the least. There are several genealogical software companies that have products that "synchronize" with NFS. If they decide to continue those features with Family Tree, they will have to rewrite their programs. I understand that this process has been going on for some time.
People who have become accustomed to NFS and its eccentricities, will have to adjust to yet another new program. There has been some substantial resistance to that process. Family Tree implements several features that discourage duplication of individuals and families. In my experience, many people have relied on that failing to duplicate individuals and pedigrees and unfortunately, some of this effort has been intentional.
There are several other major issues, one of which I wrote about recently concerning whether or not people should have their own personal database program on their own computer. I will talk about that one some more.
I will also, undoubtedly, write more about the fallout from the shutting down of NFS.