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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Two, the merging issue

This is the second in a series of posts on the issues remaining to be resolved with's Family Tree program. You may wish to review the first in this series if you haven't already done so, otherwise, the comments here might be difficult to understand. Here is the first post in the series:

Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part One

This post and the preceding one are based on a recent blog post by FamilySearch. The FamilySearch Blog post outlined some of the remaining steps necessary to make FamilySearch Family Tree fully functional. You may also be interested in a related blog post entitled, "120 Years of Pioneering Genealogy" where FamilySearch explains some of the additional history behind the current developments. As an interesting side note, I have been looking for a date when the Genealogical Society of Utah began first using the trade name "FamilySearch" but I have been unable to find anything in print on the subject. It appears to have happened in 1997 or 1998.

OK, now on to the current topic. As previously noted, the future objective of the transition from (hereinafter NFS) to Family Tree on the website is to have a completely operational unified family tree program encompassing the entire human family. One major limitation of such an undertaking, besides the huge number of individuals potentially involved is obviously the existence of records for each individual. But as reviewed in the FamilySearch blog post and in my first installment of this series, there are several obstacles to be overcome even before the present Family Tree is fully functional. 

Assuming all of the steps that have been outlined by FamilySearch concerning decommissioning NFS have been completed, the first goal set out by FamilySearch involves the merging of gateway ancestors and other famous people (also known as IOUSs). Why is this merging necessary? The answer is both simple and complex at the same time.

Over the past 150+ years, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (herein referred to as the Church) have been submitting family records to the Church for the purpose of performing certain sacred ordinances in the Church's Temples. See the Gospel Topic, Temples on In order to understand why numerous copies of some of the individuals in the FamilySearch Family Tree exist, it is necessary to understand both why and how this situation came about. The why is answered by understanding the doctrine of the Church and the subsequent motivation of its members. The how is rather simply understood. Members of the Church began submitting family names for Temple ordinances in the 1800s. Communication was extremely limited compared to today and the existing Temples were isolated both geographically and from the standpoint of communication among members. It is understandable that members of the same ancestral families would submit duplicate names without the knowledge of other family members who were doing exactly the same research on the same ancestors.

The history of genealogical research in the Church has been, in part, the story of a struggle to minimize this natural duplication of both Temple ordinances and genealogical research. Efforts to minimize this duplication began as early as the late 1800s. Over the years several programs have evolved to try and minimize duplication. For a detailed explanation of those efforts, I would recommend one of the very few publications containing that information:

Allen, James B., Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile B. Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995.

Without going into detail about the history of the Church's efforts in this regard, I can skip to the present time and begin with the introduction of NFS. Since genealogical records were individually maintained by members of the Church, each of the genealogically active members of an ancestral family would produce their own records. For an ancestor born even two hundred years earlier, there could be thousands of potential descendants, all producing their own versions of the family's history.

When NFS was introduced, FamilySearch combined five very large databases into one huge composite database. The five combined database records were: the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File, the International Genealogical Index, the existing Church membership records and the existing Temple records (this link has a good summary of the efforts to avoid duplication also). 

Combining all these records into one huge database, for the first time, made the accumulated duplication painfully evident. Without going into any further detail in this particular post, it is sufficient to say that NFS could not adequately handle the duplication. FamilySearch Family Tree was introduced, in part, to try and solve that same problem. 

FamilySearch Family Tree is the right tool to drastically reduce the previous 150 years of duplication and provide a marvelous resource for the future of genealogical research, but the process of achieving this goal is extremely complicated. It will take some additional posts to adequately comment on this complex issue. Stay tuned. 

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