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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Remaining issues with FamilySearch Family Tree -- Part Four, the rest of the story

This is the fourth 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 Three, the wiki word

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.

Assuming that the Family Tree program reaches the goal of allowing the IOUS issue to be resolved through merging the duplicates, then there are still other issues to be resolved. These are listed by FamilySearch as follows:
  • Highlighting and fixing other data issues, such as: individuals who are married before they are born, child older than a parent, child who is a spouse of a parent or grandparent, and such.
  • Ability for users to edit the gender of an ancestor.
  • Ability to see current spouse’s line by default.
Why do these three items remain issues after the initial problem of separating Family Tree from its predecessor program, (NFS) has been solved? The answer lies in a statement made in the original FamilySearch blog post. Here is what they had to say needed to happen before NFS was "completely retired":
However, there are still many tasks that our engineers will continue to work on, such as migrating and synchronizing datasets to Family Tree, as well as verifying and validating all data. Because of the enormity of the task and the desire to not lose any data, we can only give an estimate as to how long it will take to complete these final tasks. We believe it will take a year, possibly more, before we can reach the final milestone.
The key here is the idea that the process of transferring "datasets" from NFS to FamilySearch Family Tree is ongoing. Changes continue to be made to the individuals in the Family Tree by FamilySearch. This is likely evidence that data is still being synchronized with NFS. Here is a recent example from one of my own ancestors:

Many users of the program complain that FamilySearch is making changes to their family members when the information is already been corrected. However, the changes are not coming "from FamilySearch" they are coming from the data accumulated over the past 150 years and poured into NFS that is now being transferred to Family Tree. Until all this data gets processed, Family Tree will remain in a state of flux.

Now the next issue is the statement made by FamilySearch that the data needs to be "verified and validated." The three issues remaining as set forth above, give a good idea of the kinds of verification and validation that is necessary. Right now, it is not hard to find ridiculously incorrect data in the Family Tree. I have said many times that I can examine anyones pedigree as shown in FamilySearch Family Tree and find some totally inconsistent data in a matter of a few minutes. As time goes on, and if the tasks outlined by FamilySearch are addressed, then my claim will become harder and harder to maintain.

Currently, because of the influx of data from NFS and because of the inability to accurately merge some of the individuals in the program, there is a substantial risk in "correcting" the data in Family Tree, especially those containing IOUSs. You may "correct" the information and find that it has been changed by FamilySearch or that some completely unsourced and unsupported data has been substituted. These are two separate problems.

The first problem involves the changes made and tagged as done by "FamilySearch." In most cases this is just a reflection that all the data has yet to be moved over from NFS. The second issue is much more complicated. It involves the users' assumption that "their data is correct" despite any documentation or notes etc. in the Family Tree to the contrary. It is hard to say if this attitude will change over time or not. At some point, the users of the program have to start examining the sources and reading all the notes before making any changes. This may or may not ever happen. If the arbitrary changes keep occurring, then the program will lose all pretense of accuracy and will simply become a sidelined consideration in the greater genealogical community.

However, if the program uses the wiki structure and implements the available wiki resources such as moderators and the ability to lock entries once the information is sources and validated, then the potential exists that the program will become the gold standard for accuracy that it should become.

This is the end of this particular series, but not the end of the problems and challenges of Family Tree. Over the past few years I saw little or no attention to the individuals in my family lines on the Family Tree program. However, in the last few months, it appears that hundreds of people have begun contributing to the data and making changes. This is a good sign that the program is moving out of its infancy into early childhood. Let's just hope that it makes it to adulthood before the negligent class of users kill it.


  1. James, do you have a idea what they mean by "verifying and validating all data."

    Surely it does not refer to genealogical accuracy. Just that data transfer has been accurate (a huge task in itself)? All the wrongly combined persons still erroneously linked in the Tree, the IOUS all separated, etc.?

    1. No, not really. I can't image that they mean that they will try and correct the entries. My guess is the same as yours.

  2. Very nice historical analysis.
    In regards to the last question posed by Geolover: I have an ancestor who was either a gateway ancestor or IOUS, or both, on nFS. When he was brought over to Family Tree, there were only 2 instances for him. Both needed cleaning up, but what a relief to not see all 500 + records for him. It was fairly easy to focus on one record, clean it up, source it both from FS historical records and Google + Tree Connect information, including his journals in the HbLee Library. Then I just had to make sure the accurate wife relationships (he had 9 living) and their children were on the one correct record, moving some from the record to be deleted eventually. I left large Font discussions and notes on the "bad" record, warning folks not to put any memories on that record, but on the "good" one. And their pedigrees all went to the good one anyway, since I moved their wife to that record. I put a Watch on both records for him, and got right on it if something was going goofy.
    As it stands now, everyone descended from him seems to be putting stuff on only one record, and editing carefully. He has almost one hundred sources now, and hundreds of photos, stories, documents.
    The "bad" record can't be dealt with now, but eventually we'll be able to tombstone it. Having worked years on nFS combining and uncombining duplicate records, I love Family Tree with the ability to collaborate, attach sources, clean up, add memories, etc. I think we are headed in the right direction, and when nFS finally goes entirely dark, we'll all breathe a sigh of relief.

    1. That works when all cooperate and know which entry is the "correct" one. But when the search+merge functions don't find all the duplicates, there is a residual problem.