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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Three, the wiki word

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

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.

In my last post in this series, I discussed the present status of's Family Tree with all of the duplicate entries. Where this issue is the greatest problem is with those individuals who have been called "Individuals of Unusual Size" or IOUSs. The problem arose in (NFS) when the vast number of duplicates for some individuals apparently exceeded the capacity of the program. As a result, there was an artificial cap placed on the number of these duplicates that could be combined. The cap left many individuals with duplicates that exceeded the allowed number and were left as "orphan" duplicates in the program. When the data from NFS was transferred over to Family Tree, the same limitation applied to merging the records in Family Tree. This left some thousands of individuals with huge numbers of duplicates that could not be combined. Here is a screenshot showing the error message in Family Tree when the user tries to combine an obvious duplicate:

This occurs in each case where the individual is an IOUS. I have heard estimates that there may be as many as 25,000 of these individuals in the Family Tree. I suspect the number is much higher. But either way, in my own lines, there are so many of these individuals that I cannot make any progress in cleaning up the entries.

There are other reasons why individuals cannot presently be combined inFamily Tree. In the "Using the FamilySearch Family Tree: A Reference Guide (18 October 2013)," on page 146, it lists the reasons valid at that time, over a year ago:
Some records in Family Tree cannot be merged.
You cannot merge records in the following situations:
  • The gender on one record is male, and the other is female.
  • One record indicates the person is alive; the other is deceased.
  • Both records come from the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • One of the records came from, where it has been combined with too many other records.
  • The duplicate record has already been deleted due to another merge.
  • One of the records has restrictions that would prevent it from being changed.
Because the Guide is now outdated and has not been updated for over a year, some of these reasons may no longer be valid. The fourth item on the list refers to the IOUS problem.

An additional problem is that each of these IOUSs are not just a single individual but can be an entire pedigree, perhaps with thousands of duplicate ancestors. This is what Family Search is talking about when they set forth a goal of "merging of gateway ancestors and other famous people (also known as IOUSs)". It is important to understand that before this obvious data problem can begin to be solved, Family Search has to completely divest itself of the NFS program. As stated by Family Search in the blog post:
We believe it will take a year, possibly more, before we can reach the final milestone.
Following that statement they make an estimate that work on the IOUS problem could begin in 2016.

What is the greater impact of these issues? Unfortunately, we on the outside are not given much of that information (even if I were given the information, I would likely be asked not to disclose it). But there are some obvious problems with the merge function as long as this situation exists. On problem is that presently, the merge search function cannot find some of the obvious duplicates forcing the users who are diligent to "merge by ID number" instead of using the search function. Even with an ID number there are still occasions when the merge function finds the wrong person with a wrong ID number. As long as the merge function fails to operate properly, the program will allow duplicate entries and for the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints potential duplicate ordinances.

Now what has this to do with the wiki word as mentioned in the title. Since Family Tree is a wiki, based on the open-source, free wiki program from WikiMedia, it is a serious issue when merging of duplicate entries either fails to work or works inconsistently. The real question is whether or not the merge function would work if someone tried to add the same IOUS into the program yet another time. If the IOUS cannot be merged at this time, what happens when someone adds the person to the program? I am not going to try this just to see what will happen, but it is an interesting problem.

Ultimately, the problem is with any changes made (as is common with a wiki) to individuals further back in time on the pedigree than the IOUS. When the IOUS is finally resolved, which of the pedigrees will be preserved and how much of the current work will be lost when users have modified the deleted IOUS individuals. For example, with my ancestor Sidney Tanner shown in the image above, which of the two Sidney Tanners will survive and what if I have chosen the "wrong" Sidney Tanner line for all my sources and changes. This may seem trivial with two options, but remember how fast this person's ancestors increase. What about a situation that exists with another direct line ancestor, Phillip Taber (b. 1646, d. 1693)? In this case there are over twenty apparent duplicates, each with a different PID number.

Presently, there are users of the program that are making additions and changes to Phillip Taber, apparently without realizing that there are numerous possible duplicates. The interesting issue with Phillip Taber is that he was married to Mary Cooke, the daughter and Grand-daughter of Mayflower passengers.

Now back to the wiki issue. In addition, for a long time after the Family Tree program was introduced, no one seemed to want to associate the program with the wiki program. It was not that anyone denied that it was a wiki, but there was nothing in the discussions about the program pointing this out. I am of the opinion that this was the case because of the substantial amount of unnecessary negative press involving wikis and the many common misconceptions.

The idea of using a wiki program to ultimately resolve the issues with Family Tree is a very, very good idea. The Family Tree program, because it is a wiki, is ultimately the solution for the problems. But the issues need to be faced directly. It does not help to try and minimize the impact of the merging problems when the problems have such a serious impact on the correct functioning of this wiki-based program.

Well, I still have some additional issues to address, so there will be another post in this series. 

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