RootsTech 2015

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

History of the Ancestral File - What is it and what is it not?

For many years, the FamilySearch.org website has hosted an online version of The Ancestral File. This large database of user contributed names and families is still available in the Genealogies section of the Search menu on FamilySearch.org. Here is a screenshot of the page showing the search fields for The Ancestral File:


I recently received the following question from a reader:
How about writing a article on 'The Ancestral File' and how it was the base of data for New Family Search. Also, how that data was moved over to Family Search. And if the data is not sourced or updated, that information continues to lead to confusion over the accuracy of the data in Family Search today. What do you think? I am having controversy with my relatives over the accuracy of data on our ancestors that came from 'The Ancestral File'. Thank you.
FamilySearch.org describes The Ancestral File as follows:
Ancestral File is a genealogy database that contains lineage-linked names and other genealogically vital information, such as the dates and place names for the births, marriages, and deaths of millions of individuals. Ancestral File data is made up of LDS member-submitted information from around the world.
  • The previous FamilySearch site contained about 25 million records.
  • The new site contains about 40 million.
  • It no longer displays information about people who may be alive.
  • You can click to view a person in the FamilySearch Family Tree.
The reference to the "new" and "old" websites is to the earlier version of FamilySearch.org. There is still an ongoing impression among some of the users of FamilySearch.org that the "older" version of the program was somehow better. The statements made here are to counter that impression.

The key point here is the phrase "member-submitted information." Nothing submitted to FamilySearch (or its predecessors) was ever independently verified. The information on The Ancestral File is only as accurate as it was when it was submitted. Few of the entries have source data and all of the information contained in the Ancestral File should be considered subject to verification. The individuals who submitted family group records to the Ancestral File did not have the benefit of the abundant online and readily available sources we enjoy today. The FamilySearch.org Research Wiki describes the limitations of the Ancestral File as follows:
The Ancestral File has several key limitations.
  • It contains no notes or sources.
  • Submitters are responsible for the accuracy of the information. FamilySearch did not check the accuracy of any submission.
  • Submitter information, previously available, is now hidden for privacy reasons.
  • Ancestral File contains many errors and corrections are not accepted.
  • Unlike the new FamilySearch Tree and Pedigree Resource File (PRF), Ancestral File is static.
  • As previously mentioned, information in Ancestral File is second-hand. Verify the information before accepting it.
The reference to the Ancestral File being static means that it was created at one time and is not subject to correction nor is anyone able to add additional information. It is, in effect, a snapshot of the status of millions of family group records at one point in time. If you find the Ancestral File used as a "source" that is an error because it is not a "source" in the sense that it provided original information.

The Ancestral File does have some valuable information. You can use the Ancestral File when researching pre-1500 European royal and noble families. The Ancestral File contains 100,000 individuals comprising about 25,000 families. Pre-1500 information was carefully scrutinized prior to inclusion in the Ancestral File.

The Ancestral File should not be confused with the software program called the Personal Ancestral File or PAF. This program is used to store genealogical information and is not an online database.

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