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

Monday, December 2, 2013

Missing Email Addresses in FamilySearch Family Tree

Today I have been looking at's Family Tree, helping other users, and finding instance after instance where the contributor has no email address. This is especially disconcerting in the Photos, Documents and Stories section where you cannot edit the wrong tags or anything else and the person has left no way to make contact. One of the fundamental concepts of a collaborative program such as Family Tree is, of course, the ability to collaborate. The absence of contributor's email addresses makes that virtually impossible and seriously undermines the integrity of the entire database.

In the main part of the Tree, the answer to contributors who fail to add an email address or some other contact information is to remove any of their improper or inaccurate changes. But if valuable information is added without citing a source, without contact information there is no expedient way to determine the origin of the additions. In one case, I observed a photo that had been obviously mis-identified. Not only was there no way to correct the misidentification, there was no way to contact the "owner" and ask for a correction. I am sure that FamilySearch does not wish to take on the burden of correcting every mistake when the user sends in a complaint by email or telephone call. In this particular case, the wrong identification occurred in conjunction with demonstrating the program to a brand new user. Of course, the misidentification and the fact that there was no way to correct the information or contact the contributor did not make a good impression. This was especially true when the misidentification of the photo was of the new user's own father.

One of the major issues with a program such as Family Tree is the reticence of researchers to contribute their information when they feel that the work they have done will be "changed" by some other incompetent user. This issue is real but needs to be addressed in another post. But if you add to the researchers' concerns the inability to contact or correct the bad data, the whole system will suffer.

To some extent, the issue of disclosing an email address is part of the larger problem of Internet security and the atmosphere created by constant attacks from spammers, phishers and other bad guys. But, from another standpoint the paranoia created among a certain class of computer users owes its origin, not to the reality of the dangers, but to the advertisements of the companies that wish to profit from the fears of their potential customers and do so by vastly inflating the statistics about the problem.

If you succumb to the fear mongers, you would simply quit using computers altogether and I suppose that happens more than we would like to believe. The way to see if an email account is compromised is fairly easy. You open a new email account for a specific purpose. For example, if you were morbidly concerned that using your email account for Family Tree or any other online program, then you could create a dedicated account just for use on that website. Then you could tell if the account has been compromised if you started to receive spam messages directed solely at that account. I am not going to discuss my own accounts in this context, but I can say that it does work.

I have never heard of anyone stopping their regular paper-based ground mail completely, just because they received some junk mail. But I have heard of people who cancelled their email and stopped using email simply because of the spam. Why? That is one reason we have spam filters. Through one of my email accounts, I get thousands of spam messages. The filters catch all but a tiny percentage of those messages and I delete the unfiltered messages automatically when I see them in my mail list. I do not open them. I delete them using my local my mail handling program.

Whatever the origin of the problem, online database operators, such as and others, need to recognize the problem created when the users refuse to allow others to see their email or provide any method of contact. This is one problem with Family Tree that undermines the usefulness of the entire program.


  1. Understand the frustration - similar problem = a bad e-mail address. I "WATCH" for changes in FamilyTree using the WATCH feature and sent an e-mail to someone who made a change that contradicted attached source material to ask if they had some other information to base the change. Their e-mail bounced back as undelivered so I started a discussion to document why I changed the information back to match sourced information and mentioned that I'd tried to contact the person who had made the last change but the e-mail listed was returned.

  2. And in my opinion, as a former staff engineer for Anthony B. Cassedy & Associates, in the year 1980, they must follow carefully, the Principle of Integrity. I was born in 1941, and since the 1950s, have been engaged in genealogy and family history work, off and on, and have never seen full Church application of it. [ARMA International is a not-for-profit professional association and the authority on governing information as a strategic asset. The association was established in 1955. (It has a) Global network of 27,000+ information management professionals and more than 10,000 professional members]. Principle of Integrity:

    A recordkeeping program shall be constructed so the records and information generated or managed by or for the organization have a reasonable and suitable guarantee of authenticity and reliability.

    Integrity of a record is directly related to the ability to prove that a record is authentic and unaltered.

    Authenticity requires proof that a document comes from the person, organization, or other legal entity claiming to be its author or authorizing authority.

    (Church members) should expect the integrity of an organization’s records and information.

    An acceptable audit trail

    Reliability of the systems that control the recordkeeping including hardware, network infrastructure, and software

    The recordkeeping system must be reliable to prove reliability and integrity of the records. A record is only as reliable as the system in which it is maintained.
    FAILURE - ALL RECORDS ARE CURRENTLY SUSPECT; i.e., because all submitted records are: "at risk of not being accepted in evidentiary value."

    Principle of Integrity

    What Are You Going To Do,
    When Christ Asks for the Records?

    1. Thanks for saying what I have been saying for years in technical terms.

  3. One possible solution is to allow a message to be sent directly from within Family Search without revealing the recipient's email address. This is the method the State Bar of Arizona uses to allow the public to contact an attorney while protecting the address from being harvested by spammers.