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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Comments on FamilySearch in a Worldwide Community

One of the keynote speakers at the recent Brigham Young University (BYU) Conference on Family History and Genealogy in Provo, Utah, held July 29th to August 1st, was David E. Rencher, AG, CG, FUGA, FIGRS and Chief Genealogical Officer of FamilySearch. I did not attend the Conference because I was at the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies Conference (IAJGS) in nearby Salt Lake City. Representatives from FamilySearch were also at the IAJGS Conference in Salt Lake City, so it must have been a busy week for FamilySearch. Since I live in Provo, it would have been very convenient to go to the local conference, but when circumstances made it possible to attend the IAJGS Conference, I jumped at the opportunity. I will still be in Provo next year, but the IAJGS Conference will be in Jerusalem.

Fortunately, David published his slide presentation on the BYU Conference site. The presentation is entitled, "The Role of FamilySearch in a Worldwide Community." I was very interested to view the slides after a read an article in the LDSChurch News on the Deseret News website. This article is entitled, "FamilySearch today facilitates as much as gathers family history." When I read the Church News article, I found a number of historical inaccuracies, so I took the time to follow all the links in the article and was able to find David Rencher's slide presentation. I could not believe that the inaccurate information came from David and that turned out to be the case. Enough said about that. Having participated in many newsworthy events over the years, I find newspapers have rarely gotten the entire story correct. This, of course, says a lot about using newspapers for genealogical research.

OK, back to the slide presentation. The initial thrust of the presentation was a brief overview of the history of FamilySearch beginning with the establishment of the Genealogical Society of Utah in 1894. Because I feel that the history of FamilySearch is very little understood, as evidenced by the newspaper article, and I will be starting a series of posts on my other blog, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad... on this subject very soon (I am presently attending The Foundation for East European Family History Studies Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah as a mentor and providing research support. As soon as that is over today, I will concentrate on beginning my series on the history of FamilySearch.

FamilySearch has grown from its humble beginnings 120 years ago, to its present worldwide reach. According to David's presentation, has over 8 million hits per day, with over 3 million+ users, and over 1400 record collections (1796 today to be exact) with over 3 billion searchable names.

What was very interesting was some of the background to how the present Family Tree was developed. The previous information is easily available in books or online, but slides showing the background to Family Tree have an insight which I am sure has never been put online before. In fact, this background has likely never been publicly acknowledged. What is a new twist for FamilySearch is the clear explanation of Family Tree's relationship to online wiki programs, especially Wikipedia. During the early introduction of Family Tree and during the past two years or so, FamilySearch presenters on the subject have been careful not to refer to Family Tree as a wiki, even though that was obviously the basis for the program. In fact, one the slides goes so far as to acknowledge that Family Tree was modeled after Wikipedia!

Of course, I have been saying that Family Tree was a wiki since I first saw the program, but my comments have been ignored. Why is this important? Because it moves Family Tree into the mainstream of online programs and explains how and why the program will succeed as a unified tree. All you really have to do to understand this statement is realize that if wikis did not function as they are intended to function, Wikipedia would not be in the top ten most visited websites in the world.

Why was Family Tree's origin ignored for all that time? I think the answer is complex and involves the general ignorance about how and why wikis work as they do. I have been maintaining for years, that the only way of correcting the huge contradictory pile of genealogy generated over the years is to put the whole pile in a wiki. It is also obvious to me, from what I have heard about the program since its introduction that the software engineers who developed the program were well aware of the advantages of a wiki to handle massive amounts of information. So the Emperor finally admits he has no clothes?

One other comment on a slide. One slide is entitled, "Family Tree Functions under Consideration or Development." Interesting. The list is as follows:

  • Merge Duplicates
  • Number of People Agree with Content
  • Contact with any other user
  • Number of People Watching a Person/Family
  • Voting on Accuracy
It is comforting to know that FamilySearch listens. You might want to read the post I recently wrote for FamilySearch entitled "The Future of Family History: Peering into the Mist." You might see some of the things I discuss on the list above. I will have a lot more to say about the subject brought up in David's slides as soon as I work my way through my huge list of blog topics. 


  1. H'm, I'm inclined to agree with the LDS ignoring what you said. And that's because a real wiki, as it is defined on, is based on the idea of the collaborative editing of text. That's why the inventor created a formatting language that was much easier than html, and database that could be used to roll back changes, so that editors would not be afraid to make mistakes. Ease and freedom were key.

    Sites like and that use the same text based software that's used on Wikipedia, could still be seen as wikis because of that, but in reality, they're not that easy as a real wiki anymore. They have lots of rules to make things work, and on the latter I have seen that people can become very unfriendly when a mistake is made, and the much appreciated roll-back doesn't seem to be able. I really didn't see much of the wiki atmosphere there, but rather people that were the opposite of cooperative.

    As far as I can tell, Geni and FamilySearch do not use the mediawiki for their trees, and therefore, I would not call them wiki sites myself. They are highly structured collaborative sites, and Geni is quite actively moderated. And that's needed, because in my experience, the average genealogist is not the most collaborative type. Many act quite violent when someone else corrects what they think is their tree, and don't seem to be interested in real quality at all.

    With this in mind, I think of Geni and the FamilySearch as wiki like, but also think that people need to be aware that strong moderation is necessary here. And that also means strict rules about all sorts of things, like proper use of names, locations, sources, and so forth. And especially FamilySearch still needs a lot of cleaning up to work.

    P.S. I really appreciate you posting a link to that presentation, and your recent post.

    1. Thanks for your extensive comment. I guess, because of having worked on the Research Wiki now for about six years, I see more wiki-like features in Family Tree than would otherwise be evident.

    2. I do recognize the wiki-like features too. It's just that I think that the software platform is not the same. And in general I think that's a good thing, because quite a few people are scared by mediawiki formatting rules, even though they are easier than pure html. A glimpse at the Research Wiki also shows that you have style guides there, which are a good thing there, but don't work well on the tree. I know that from wikitree, where styles don't work, because once they're changed, there's no one that can apply the new styles to the millions of person pages that are already there.

      I like the FamilySearch tree because of the collaborative features, and because I don't need to learn mediawiki formatting and style guides for that. It allows me to concentrate on the elements that I'm already used to in my desktop program, and that's good. And with the wiki-like history, I also know that I don't need to fear making mistakes.

      As far as I can tell, there is no link between the Family Tree and the Research Wiki now, and adding that might be an interesting challenge. On, such links are used for places, and they may be useful in some other areas too, like maybe notes and memories. That's my peering into the mist.

    3. WeRelate incorporates the entire FamilySearch Library Catalog. FamilySearch Family Tree essentially does the same thing with links.

    4. In the FamilySearch FamilyTree, I personally don't see those links. I see a lot of links on a person page, but none of those brings me to a place page as it does on In my opinion such links, which would then try a search on the FamilySearch Research Wiki, would be a great way to educate members in two ways. On one hand, if the place exists, the wiki page might provide clues for further research, or simply tell members about the place where their ancestors lived. On the other hand, when there is no such place in the research wiki, that might be a clue that the place entered is not right, as is the case in many entries in the tree, like you mentioned in an earlier post.

      Providing these links would make the tree more wiki like, especially because it is much quicker (wiki wiki) than typing the name in the catalog, which also uses another place database than the standardization database of the Family Tree. And since both are inaccurate, linking places to the FamilySearch Research Wiki, where they can be maintained by dedicated members, would probably be a better choice.

    5. I was referring to the fact that WeRelate has links to the FamilySearch Catalog for sources and so does FamilySearch Family Tree. I do not think that linking the Family Tree to the Research Wiki would work or be a good idea. The Research Wiki is not a source.

  2. You used to be able to read this history of the Genealogical Society of Utah online for free, but it looks like they ask for a fee now:

  3. From your last bulleted list from a slide:

    Number of People Agree with Content
    --How is this relevant to accuracy? Could one "like" an item attributed to one dern GEDCOM file, but not another item from the same file or a different one?

    Voting on Accuracy
    --Even worse than the above. Numerous of my family members are erroneously depicted (in many different ways) in sundry trees. Allowing votes of the respective tree owners to affect the material given in FS-FT in any way (they would outvote those who try to rely on evidentiary records) would be just stupid. This is one of the worst ideas to be proposed.

    Genealogical accuracy is not in general related to popularity or voting numbers. That's how we see wrong material regarding researched relatives in 5,10, 250 trees.