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

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Another look at New FamilySearch

In the last posts, I began a discussion of some of the issues associated with the introduction of New FamilySearch. The interface for the program is deceptively simple. It is only through clicking on links at the bottom of the screens to show combined individuals, that you can begin to appreciate the complexity of the data being represented. For each name shown on the screen at any given time, there may be many hundreds of combined files of the same individual lurking beneath the simple looking lists of names in a pedigree-like format. There may also be many more duplicates of the same individual waiting to be combined.

On the other hand, it is possible that an individual is not in the file at all or that there is only one or perhaps, two copies of the individual's record. However, if you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have ancestors who were also members, it is very likely that there are multiple copies of every individual to whom you are related. It is also possible that the number of copies is growing as current users of the program add people to the file without first checking to see if the file already contains the information. This problem is especially egregious when a number of names are submitted to the file at once in a GEDCOM format.

I have also found, over the past two years, that to understand what you are looking at, it is necessary to understand some of the limitations of the data. New FamilySearch is a huge database of names collected from several sources. Only a very limited number of the entries could, under any criteria, be considered as original sources. In this sense, New FamilySearch is not a place to go to do research. It is more like a place to do an original survey, to see what others may have done on your family lines. I cannot recommend downloading a pedigree line from New FamilySearch under most circumstances. The entries are likely a mixture of fact and fantasy and it is very difficult, in some cases, to tell the difference.

In looking at the data from the five original source databases, (the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File, the International Genealogical Index, LDS Church records and Temple records) none seems to be more reliable than the others. All of the entries in each of these databases are copies and sometimes multiple layers of copies from any record that could be considered an original source. In each separate database, there could also have been multiple submissions. I know that many of my relatives have dozens of copies of their information, some entirely wrong, in the Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File. Some of the wrong information in the Pedigree Resource File was submitted by me many years ago, before I found the correct information. The two most reliable databases contained in New FamilySearch, the membership and Temple records, often disagree about the date for the same event. Although the Temple records are generally reliable, the general Church records relied on the accuracy of the person inputting the records, generally, a Ward Clerk who was not related to the person and not present at the event being recorded.

Given that the information may be either unreliable or reliable and given that there is no easy way to either correct the unreliable information or distinguish between the reliable and unreliable information, it is a tragedy that many users of New FamilySearch take the attitude that it is online (written) and therefore it is true.

This attitude, that the information is from the Church and therefore true, is pervasive among many the users of the program. When confronted with the inherent rampant contradictions among the various contributors, some users are astonishingly angry that someone would have the audacity to put the wrong date or place for their ancestor. They are totally put off by the program when they find out that the user has only a very limited ability to correct information. The only way to make a correction by removing wrong information is with the cooperation of the FamilySearch staff through E-mail or telephonic correspondence.

The fact that new users, unfamiliar with the program continue to come online, do not help the attitude of those who have been working with the data for some time. At first, there was a common consensus that the information needed to be corrected through collaborative effort. However, in most cases, this proves to be impossible since the contributors either cannot be identified, have died, or are unresponsive to attempts to enlist their assistance. There is a mechanism for claiming a legacy user but it is cumbersome and not always available.

I don't want to leave this post in a negative mode. I am merely pointing out some of the limitations of the data, not the program itself. For a person with no LDS heritage, the program will appear to be much simpler and easier to use.

More later.

1 comment:

  1. ecause my gedcom are always a work in progress, I regretfully decided not to upload a copy to old familysearch because I can not delete and correct my own data there.

    As a user outside the church I feel a debt to all the LDS volunteers whose film and extractions I regularly use so I do some indexing as my tiny contribution.