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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In Response to Comments on Family Tree

My daughter Amy Tanner Thiriot wrote a blog post on (a Mormon history blog) about the Family Tree called "In Which We Bid Farewell to NewFamilySearch and Welcome Family Tree." All I can say is that the folks who read that Blog sure do like to comment more than those who read my blog. Even if I say something wrong or inflammatory, I usually only get a very few comments on any one blog post. When I looked at Amy's post today, I saw 28 comments. So, I decided to read through all the comments and post my responses to the responses here. Rather than quote some of the very long comments, I decided to summarize the issues and address them in the order made by the commentators. By the way, thanks for all of the really detailed comments. So here it goes:

Is Family Tree overwhelming?

Well, I think genealogy as a whole is pretty overwhelming. Despite the gratuitous statements made by large online commercial genealogy sites, genealogy is involved and very challenging. It is only easy if you are careless and don't care about sources and documentation. However, Family Tree is far from overwhelming if taken in the context of genealogy programs in general. Most of the commercially sold genealogy databases are much more complicated and include a lot more "features" than Family Tree. But if you are coming to genealogy cold, Family Tree or any other program for storing genealogy can be intimidating.

What to do about wrong information in Family Tree.

The answer in two words is: FIX IT. The whole idea of Family Tree is to allow the users (you, me, everyone) to edit or fix the information that is inaccurate or incorrect. I cannot tell you how many times I have to say this to some people before they get it. Go into the program. Click on the inaccurate information. Click on the Edit link and start changing the wrong information. But, the whole idea here is to put in correct information. So before you get to this step, make sure your own information is correct and then make the correction and be sure to put in substantiating sources for everything you do.

Are the details in Family Tree overwhelming?

You can see my response from my first answer up above. But here the question deals with details. Hmm. That's what I always though genealogy was all about: details. If you are overwhelmed with details perhaps genealogy is not your favorite pastime? You could watch TV or play shuffleboard or do some thing less detail oriented.

Family Tree and GEDCOMS

Let me start this discussion with my own personal opinion. I think that Family Tree and similar programs should not allow anyone to upload a GEDCOM file. My own experience is typical of the problems this seemingly simple solution to data entry can cause. So years ago, I uploaded two of my GEDCOM files to the Pedigree Resource File under the guise that they were "backup files" because that is how they were billed. Guess what? These old files were incomplete and inaccurate except now they are enshrined forever in the CDs of the Pedigree Resource File and have come back to haunt me in and now in Family Tree. In my opinion, Family Tree should have left everyone with a clean slate. Now on to reality.

Yes, you can upload a GEDCOM file to Family Tree but it is a slow and somewhat difficult and I might say painful process. Thankfully. The instructions, which I will not repeat here, are in the Resource Manual which is available in the Family Tree training materials with a link in the Help Center. Essentially, you upload your GEDCOM to the Pedigree Resource File and then you can transfer the information to Family Tree. This can be a very time consuming process.

What to do about relatives who keep changing information without proof?

Family Tree provides a whole set of tools to respond to people who make irresponsible changes. Basic to this whole process is the feature that allows you to watch any changes to any individuals you choose to include in your watch list. At the top of the page for each individual there is a link for "Watch." Clicking on this link automatically adds that individual to your Watch List and then FamilySearch sends you an email every week listing any changes made to your Watch List people.

If you see a change that is not sourced or is wrong information, then you can change it back and send the person who made the change an explanation. This is an opportunity to educate people. You might be careful to include all your own documentation as a deterrent to further posting. If that doesn't work and the person persists in putting in wrong information, then send a complaint to FamilySearch in the Feedback link explaining the problem. They have already indicated they are willing to take care of troublesome posters.

Deleting wrong spouses and children

This is the whole idea of the program, you can correct wrong information and don't hesitate to do so. If you need help there is are several documents in the Help Center that will specifically tell you how to do this. See the Family Tree training materials for some instructions. Hint: you have to delete all of the wrong children from the wrong marriage first before the program will let you delete the wrong spouse.

Family Tree not available upon sign in

After registering with FamilySearch, if you sign in to FamilySearch and Family Tree does not appear in the menu bar then you need to go through the process of Gaining Access to Family Tree. If that still doesn't work, then call the Support Number in the Help Center and ask for help.

19th Century Adoptive Sealings

Family Tree may show 19th Century Adoptive Sealings as marriages. It is up to the family to leave these in the program or delete them. I see no reason they cannot be left in the program with a simple explanation as to the reason they appear in the Other Information section of the individuals.

Family Tree availability

Family Tree is available to both members and those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. See my comment on availability above.

Negative feelings towards and Personal Ancestral File (PAF)

I my personal opinion such feelings are fully justified. I have spent countless hours trying to help people unravel the problems that have been caused by both programs. But I always viewed both programs to be early attempts. I used both programs until I could see a way to move forward without them. I see Family Tree as a way to finally get past both programs.

I could write a whole bunch of posts about what I think of still using PAF. That one program has caused me more wasted time and grief than everything else on computers except Microsoft and Apple.

A document anyone can edit

This is real interesting issue. Ron Tanner in his presentation at RootsTech in February of 2012 talked about My-Tree-itis. The idea that somehow you own your genealogy information. Well, you don't and being upset because other members of your family or anyone for that matter can contribute is rampant my-tree-itis. Get over it. Family Tree works because everyone can edit it. I have years of experience with wikis that say this is true.

Negative comments about genealogical goals

I wouldn't mind commenting about what I think of genealogical goals but I have a policy not to do so. I think my daughter's response is appropriate, "it’s unfortunately common for local leaders to establish programs like that without any understanding of how genealogy, the local family history centers, or temple submissions work."

Cannot merge in Family Tree

I have written about this previously. Right now FamilySearch is working on untangling some of the more egregious combinations of people from Meanwhile, you might find that some of your ancestors are "frozen" and cannot be merged. Have patience. It will be solved.

Amy and Ardis finally called off the comments. Thanks for the opportunity to comment back.


  1. I just wanted to let you know I enjoy reading your posts, even if I don't leave a comment. :)

    I will take your advice and look at the help tips and figure out how to delete people. Thanks for keeping us updated.

    1. Tina, you can not delete people in FS-Family Tree. You can separate them from spouse, children, parents -- thus leaving a possibly nonexistent person as a floating artifact in the Tree. Or you can move a person from a wrong family to a correct one. You can merge two individuals. You can not change wrong gender, either.

    2. Okay, I need to look into this to see how to seperate a wrong spouse and all her children. I don't have someone else to connect her to because I have no idea who she is. I just know she didn't marry my person and have those kids with him.

      I did find a relative who was listed as dead and she is very much alive at 95. I changed it and then got an email and a phone call to verify that the info I posted was correct. Then they changed her to living.

  2. James, you said "What to do about wrong information in Family Tree.
    --The answer in two words is: FIX IT. The whole idea of Family Tree is to allow the users (you, me, everyone) to edit or fix the information that is inaccurate or incorrect."

    You can't fix wrongly combined persons from n.FS in FS-FT. In FS-FT you can't even really see what happened.

    See the latest discussion on this:

    Since in FS-FT one can not recover the data on the wrongly combined persons, or sort out what elements (such as vital dates, spouses) of the resulting purported "person" was derived from completely different individuals, one can not even realistically do the recommended thing by re-creating the "disappeared" persons using FS-FT.

  3. James, you said "What to do about relatives who keep changing information without proof?
    --Family Tree provides a whole set of tools to respond to people who make irresponsible changes."

    By far the worst offender is the FS programming, which keeps migrating wrong data from new.Familysearch into FS-FamilyTree -- often the same wrong data over and over. There are some families that I have now fixed 3 times due to this problem. When FS does this there is no source data and no rationale except the unstated one that it was in n.FS.

  4. Two priorities here which I cannot over-emphasize, and I speak as a non-member professional genealogist.

    (1) Fixing it requires an open mind. If we truly are the generation to repair this on-line genealogy mess, members may have to take occasional advice from non-members. And may have to admit that non-members, often, have better data. At present non-members will not have the ability to edit, only to view.

    (2) Your pedigree is only as good as your proof. "I seen it in print" is not proof. Presence of a line on the Ancestral File is not proof; my own grandmother is listed thereon with the wrong sex, I sent through a correction diskette in 1994, and it never got fixed. Presence of a line on the Pedigree Resource File is not proof, and individuals of unusual size with minor tweaks to fool the filters that allowed IGI downloads and TempleReady uploads to cycle round and round and round will always be with us.

    Good luck, everybody.