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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Future Developments in FamilySearch Family Tree

Unfortunately, I cannot be in more than one place at one time (although I try hard at doing so) and I could not be in Provo for the Family History and Genealogy Conference and also in Colorado Springs for a Family History Expo. The number of conferences seems to be increasing and I am already booked for 18 events in the next year. Fortunately, The Ancestry Insider reported on some of the presentations in the Provo event. Two posts about presentations concerning upcoming changes in the Family Tree program merit close study: FamilySearch Family Tree Road Map presented by Ron Tanner and Merging People in FamilySearch’s Family Tree by Ben Baker. Both of these sessions were reported second hand by The Ancestry Insider, but he is very reliable and had access to the PowerPoints, so likely the main points are very accurate.

I thought it might help to point out which of the planned features have already been implemented and some of my thoughts on proposed new features.

The presentation by both Ron Tanner and Ben Baker included dozens of different items, some of which are only mentioned very briefly so details, for some, might presently be lacking. Here is a list of functions mentioned by The Ancestry Insider and attributed to Ron Tanner:

Helper Function: This is a feature already in use that allows sharing a user's screen without disclosing a password. Changes made to the data are attributed to the primary user, i.e. the one being helped. Here is a screenshot showing the link:

Associating a photograph as a source: This would be helpful if you could include images of documents not otherwise available online.

Migrating sources from (NFS) to Family Tree: Apparently, this is already in progress. I received an email asking if I wanted my sources migrated but haven't heard anything since. In some cases there are useful sources in NFS but most I have seen would be better left where they are.

Notes Section: Migrating Notes from NFS to Family Tree falls in the same category as sources. Some are valuable, some are not. It would work if you could delete meaningless notes.

Adding merging warning messages: This would be a good idea. Right now, it is easy to merge two individuals (assuming they are not IOUSs) and people can also be unmerged.

Setting preferred spouse: This can already be done. I just posted about this feature with screenshots.

Increase warnings for deleting a person: This does need to be done only when the person never existed. Otherwise, if the person is improperly merged the unmerging the individual is indicated not deleting. The consequences of deleting an individual need to be set out in detail.

Report abuse link: Already present. See my previous post.

List of top matching source records: This superficially sounds like a good idea. It is done by but the danger is that the user will assume that the suggested sources are correctly identified, which may not be the case.

Automatic IGI Extracted Records source: This is similar to matching source records in general, if it chooses the right record, it would be a good idea. But, if the wrong records are chosen, it may create a misleading situation for those who cannot judge the accuracy of the records.

Separation from NFS: The day it occurs should be declared a national holiday.

Quality indicators: I definitely think this is a good idea. There should be a way to mark questionable data as well as rank sources according to reliability. But The Ancestry Insider indicates that what is meant by quality indicators are merely doing the math to see if the dates make sense. Helpful, but not as helpful as a scorecard ranking by users, sort of like movie reviews.

Impede changes to sourced individuals: I certainly would vote for this one. I think once a person has been documented to a certain level, basic information should be frozen and unavailable for change without some sort of application process.

Support for fixing bad NFS combines: This is one of the sore spots presently with FamilySearch. They are apparently overwhelmed with the number of bad combined records. It is unlikely that any progress will be made in this area until the programs are separated. Right now, if you have a bad combination of records, you have a very, very long wait before it will be fixed.

Internal messaging system: This was mentioned by The Ancestry Insider, but I am not sure what they mean. I assume it would be a way to communicate with other users inside the program. I thought we had this in the Discussion category.

Genealogical proof statements: Should formal genealogical proof statements be supported? I assume that you could add one simply by allowing PDF documents to be attached to an individual. 

Audio and video: I view the addition of audio and video files to be inevitable. This is more of a data storage issue than anything else. 

Warring detection: Is this not available? This is a serious omission if not. This is an administrative issue not a user issue. Of course, the users get into a war, but it takes an administrator to stop the revert war and block changes.

Sharing ordinances: Good idea, but this is easier done with sharing the printed cards rather than creating an online system. 

Bequeathing reservations: An interesting concept, but I think this carries the concept of "owning" the reservations too far. If you get into this area, you are, in fact, creating an ownership of the ordinance requests that may create more problems than it solves.

Google search of ancestors: Nothing stopping you from doing this now. I am not sure why this would benefit users of the program. Since a search on Google should include variations of the ancestor's name, I don't see that this would be a great feature to include. 

Well, that is quite a list and I haven't even made it to the second post. Stay tuned.


  1. James,

    Thanks for this information!

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. James, an interesting list.

    I was amazed to see "Impede changes to sourced individuals: I certainly would vote for this one. I think once a person has been documented to a certain level, basic information should be frozen and unavailable for change without some sort of application process."

    Unfortunately, FS has been emphasizing "sources" rather than evidentiary evaluations. More and more as I look at FS-FT items I am seeing such user-entered "sources" as internet trees, GEDCOM files and genealogy books. As far as the latter go, in my experience those completely lacking any reference to documentation vastly outnumber the ones with evidentiary orientation. And then there are all the newsletters, journals and other magazines which may contain material that is seemingly well-documented but still deeply flawed.

    How is a computer program to determine what is "well sourced"? Pretty much by numbers? In two of my lines, wrong ancestry is given in at least 5 published books, hundreds of trees and doubtless other material published in hard copy or the internet. If each of the publications alone is entered as a source-citation for the wrong assertions, what would the program's result be?

    If the choice is to leave it to descendants or other relatives or program users at large to "vote," what if most viewers of the proven-wrong assertions concerning the two lines referred to above are those who have done no documentary research, but believe the assertions in the aforesaid books, trees, etc.? I'd speculate that similar situations are duplicated many times over, and the results of "voting" would result in nothing more refined than is in most of the present highly erroneous trees. And it is simply not the case that such persons change their beliefs when shown the actual evidence.

    Setting up an appeals process involving at least 100s of skilled genealogists who do nothing but corrective research is not going to be in FS's future -- and if such a panel did exist, how could its members possibly go to the requisite repositories to find the decisive evidence?