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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Can the FamilySearch Family Tree become an accurate master reference?

By Teconología - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
There is an innate distrust of wikis. Most people in a Western European derived culture have a strong sense of ownership and a website designed to be a source of contributions from all the users feels "out-of-control." The fact that "anyone" could correct "your" family history is uncomfortable for most and unbearable for some. When you add in the fact that the program is based on the Internet where things seem to randomly change and change quickly, the entire structure seems unstable.

Contrary to all these doubts and misgivings, wikis are fundamentally sound. The key to the success of wikis is based on human nature. The people who care the most about any particular entry are the ones who "win out" in the interchange between the users. When there are fundamental differences, the program can enforce a "truce" until a compromise is negotiated. The key to reliability, is sourcing. If the entries in the wiki are supported by source citations, then any user who doubts the validity of an entry can check the facts and make corrections. Over time, the wiki becomes more and more reliable.

What does this have to do with genealogy and particularly, with the Family Tree? The simple answer is that the Family Tree is a wiki. This is a case that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and lays eggs, it is probably a duck. The Family Tree has every characteristic of a wiki-based program and when being candid, FamilySearch admits the fact.

Aren't there other family tree based wikis? Yes, there are. Are they accurate? That is a good question. To the extent that entries are supported by sources, they may be accurate. Simple citation of a source does not guarantee accuracy. The person entering the source may have chosen a document that is not related to the individual who is in the tree. So, we can think about the Family Tree in the same way. To the extent that accurate and well-supported sources are added to the Family Tree and further, to the extent that the information from those sources is incorporated into the Family Tree, it will become more and more accurate over time.

Can the Family Tree become a "master source" for genealogical information? The potential is there. One thing that would help the Family Tree to become even more accurate, would be for the program to promote accuracy as a goal. For example, the program now marks entries without source citations with icons informing the users that the entries are incomplete. Ultimately, the program relies on the constant review of the users to correct and update the entries.

My personal observation is that the Family Tree is becoming more accurate in the small area encompassing my own family lines. For many of the entries, there is a huge amount of information that supports the conclusions shown as details. My analogy is that the Family Tree is solidifying and becoming inherently more reliable. I believe that this will continue to happen. As long as FamilySearch does not do anything to undermine the ability of the users to correct the information in the Family Tree, it will ultimately become the "go-to" master reference it always had the potential of achieving.

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