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

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

FamilySearch Family Tree at the Intersection -- Which way will it turn?

One of my online friends, Lee Drew of the LineageKeeper Blog said it well today with a blog post entitled, "New FamilySearch Design ~ A Left Turn?" He states in part, that the design is aimed at beginners and that the changes to the website are a hinderance to the "seasoned researchers." This and many other reactions are accumulating rapidly. The question of the day is whether or not hiding the real resources of the website will actually attract the people they hope to add to the fold?

Will the redesign of the site make new or beginning family historians (avoiding the genealogy word) make the transition from copying to researching? Where do the photos and stories come from? Most of my older photos, other than those of my immediate family, have come from a consistent effort over many years accumulating them from a variety of sources both in and out of the ancestral family. Likewise, the stories, where I have been able to verify them, came from research into journals and diaries found from collecting from relatives but in many cases from collections in the Special Collections sections of university libraries. Is there some fear that I won't transmit these photos and stories on to others in my family? A family, by the way, that largely ignores my genealogical activities?

Just as an example, I searched through several of my ancestors in the first three generations of my family on Family Tree and looked at the complete history of the entries, an easy thing to do with the complete record of changes since the person was added. I have made hundreds of edits and added dozens and dozens of sources. My source list includes about 204 sources so far. As I go back in time, I do find some additional entries, but considering that my information has been in and now, FamilySearch Family Tree and the previous programs for about twenty or so years, the lack of commentary, questions and interaction are staggering. Is this lack of interest due entirely to the design of the webpages? Will changing the pages attract more and younger users? Apparently, FamilySearch is convinced that they have the solution.

Except for one error, where a user put in a wrong name for my maternal grandfather, I could not find one other person from my family who had made any edits or added even one source over the past year. Does that mean that the old format of the website was to blame for this inactivity? The fact that I am correcting the entries and adding sources is apparently viewed as a detriment to the advance of family history. I am single-handedly driving away the very people FamilySearch would like to attract. As I sat and watched the startup page, I realized, none of the people they are showing in photos, doing family history, are old like me. I guess I have definitively moved into invisible old age.

But one thing is certain. I didn't become involved in my family history because anyone helped me or mentored me or even encouraged me. Since my first efforts at gathering family history I have been met by family members ignoring me or pretending I don't exist. It is a good thing I wasn't confronted by even more opposition.

OK, so why do I care? I am and have been for some time, extremely involved in writing, correcting and editing the FamilySearch Research Wiki. I hate to see this valuable resource virtually ignored as are many other valuable resources available to the serious genealogist, such as Community Trees.  Now we find the Learn Center with all the instructional videos in about the same category.

In fact, if you look at the startup page for a while, you will see that there are almost no links to any of the research resources of the website at all except user submitted areas such as photos, family tree and indexing. There are two links to the search screen for Historical Record Collections and other resources, but nothing to tell you what or how to search.

In a comment by Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, he summed up the problem. Quoting from the comment:
A simple listing of the major pages on the home page, near the top, would be really useful.  Even a two-tier link set where Family Tree, Photos and Search are now located.  I want to be able to go to the home page and click once and be in the Family Tree, the Record Search, the Collection page, the Wiki, the Research Courses, Getting Started, the Catalog, Indexing, the Blog, etc.  
I hope these comments do not come across as the ramblings of a old guy who resists change. I am probably the last person to complain about change per se. But as a teacher, a research consultant, a missionary at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, a researcher and as a contributor to the Wiki, my life was just made significantly harder.

For my part, I am not feeling sorry for myself. I will continue to do what I have done for over 30 years now: research. I will also continue to teach, write and encourage all those I meet and talk to about genealogy. Changing the website will not change what I do.

I am certain that if FamilySearch measures success by the number of photos and stories put on their website, they will find success. I have over 2.3 Terabytes of photos and stories waiting to go onto the site. But I would like some way to correct the duplicate stories and photos as well as have them attached to the correct ancestors. :-)


  1. First of all, are there truly no comments? The first thing I said when I went in to the Family History Center was something like, "How do you like the new interface at FamilySearch"? My initial question at home, to myself, was, where is the link to the Research Wiki? Of course, I googled it and was put in touch, immediately. Now, at the Family History Center, they have the Portal thing, so it isn't hard to navigate from that interface, but still...I can only hope this "simple" and straightforward "new" look is temporary. I absolutely don't like the trend of church media to portray us real people as as some idealistic population, presented photographically as clean, tidy, appropriately dressed, etc. Is that going to stop me from using the resources, from doing the work of family history/genealogy? No. Does it wear on my testimony of the mission of family history? Not hardly. I realize it must be a difficult task to please everyone, but get real: we are using FamilySearch to find our ancestors, not social interaction.

  2. I really, really, REALLY, dislike the new FamilySearch! I could do a simple search a few months ago & find a death certificate with no problem. Now there is no image. I've been a genealogist for decades & FamilySearch used to be one of my first stops for research, now it may be a second thought.