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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Challenges of Adding Sources to Family Trees -- Part Three: Moving Sources Across Family Trees

The proliferation of online programs that provide helpful record hints connecting users to useful and genealogically reliable source documents has created some secondary challenges. Each of these programs require the user to have his or her family tree on each website. If you want to take advantage of several of these programs, you can have up to half a dozen or more separate copies of your family tree to maintain.

Because each of these family tree hosting programs use their own proprietary formats, there is very little consistency between them. Each program has its own criteria for creating source citations and storing copies of the pertinent documents. If you try to keep up even a moderately sized family tree on more than one program, you could spend nearly all your time trying to keep the different copies synchronized.

We are essentially faced with massive amounts of data that is isolated by each of the programs with ineffective methods of transferring that data where it can be collected into one centralized program. For example, a user can have literally thousands of record hints and be forced to move them individually to consolidate them into one program. Some of the existing programs have a method to share multiple sources at one time for a single individual or to add one source at a time to multiple individuals. Of course, some of the programs can only move one field of information at a time even within the program itself. No matter which of the limited ways prevail in the programs, the user is confronted with either ignoring huge numbers of hints or spending huge amounts of time merely transferring the information, sometime one field at a time.

Genealogists who want to take advantage of the record hints in multiple programs either have to maintain multiple family trees or spend a huge amount of time moving the hints to their chosen, designated main database program. Part of my own challenge is illustrated by the above image of the notice of Record Matches, I have on the program.

 Is there a solution?

It now appears that there is some detectable movement towards a solution but ultimately the resolution of the entire problem is still quite a distance down the road. Since I last wrote about this family tree isolationist issue, some additional synchronization connections for some users have been established but even with the additional ability to transfer individual data and sources between programs or individuals in the same program, much of the content still defies transfer except by tedious copy and paste methods and what synchronization that can be done involves mostly moving one source or one individual's data at a time. Even within programs, the ability to attach the same document to more than one person is often limited. There are some notable exceptions, but this seems to be one of those features that is waiting for some increased technology or consideration by the developers.

Of course, as I have noted previously, it is not in the interest of "competing programs" to cooperate and provide methods for the convenient and easy transfer of data. If I have my family tree on two competing programs, this is viewed as a potential loss of business. However, from my perspective, I value each of the programs for their individual contribution to my overall goal of discovering my ancestors and I am perfectly willing to use and support both programs. In fact, the ability of the programs to share information with our chosen main family tree program is an important criteria for the use of the programs. I could give specific examples using specific programs but by doing so I might imply that the other programs were more efficient or desirable and this would not be the case. They are all almost equally obtuse.

How do I handle the situation? Unfortunately, I end up ignoring much of the problem. I realize I have thousands of unresolved record hints sitting in different programs but I do not have the time to review even a small percentage of them. Instead, I focus on my own selected research objectives and only use the record hints when they coincide with my specific objectives. Of course, I am still burdened by the time it takes to move any helpful data from one program to another, but I can control the time I spend adding sources or whatever by avoiding adding the records hints to random people in my family tree every time I am notified of new hints.

Most of the programs also try to involve me in collaborating or contacting my potential relatives. For some, this can be a huge benefit, but for me personally, it is merely another time consuming issue. If I see information supplied by others that pertains to me direct interests, I may interact with others even some relatives, but in almost all cases, I find that the information in other family trees is either copied from my own or lacking in substantiating sources.

Depending on the amount of information any particular user has available, adding more information such as from DNA testing may be beneficial or not. This is not a one-size fits all situation. DNA testing is a tool for resolving some specific types of problems and absent those problems, a DNA test is merely additional data that must be integrated into a user's existing data. I have been repeatedly asked if I am going to get a DNA test. My answer is simple, right now, I have no unresolved relationship issues that will be measurably assisted by a DNA test. If and when I discover an issue that can be resolved with a test, I will be glad to take one. Meanwhile, I do not see that adding more information and contacts from "potential" relatives is going to resolve any of the families I am presently researching. I guess the bottom line is why would I pay for more DNA based "research hints" when I am overwhelmed with the ones I already have?

You can read the previous posts on this subject here:


  1. I felt very much as you do about DNA testing, although I decided to do testing on family members to resolve a particular problem (which the testing accomplished). The testing also inadvertently showed that my maternal grandfather was not my biological grandfather, despite the fact that I didn't have any unresolved relationship issues on this side of my tree. I have spent well over 40 years researching this line and my tree is well sourced. If I hadn't done testing, I would never have known this truth. I still think of this line as my family, but I am very much aware that 25% of my family history is unknown. I hope to eventually find a DNA connection that will put me on the path to finding out what family line I descend from. I too am am overwhelmed with "research hints" but now some of those don't even apply to my "solid" family tree. Thank you for your excellent posts. I very much enjoy reading them.

    1. Thank you for your insightful comment. As I have written in the past, I wonder how many people are as prepared as you apparently were to find out that their "settled" family relationships are far from settled. I am sure we will hear many similar stories in the future.

    2. I wasn't prepared, although I knew many individuals who test discover results that are contrary to what they expect. I first had other family members test to confirm the results, and I spent months getting used to the idea that everything I knew about my grandfather's line was no longer biologically relevant to me. Frankly, it was a shock! I have spent my entire adult life doing genealogy research on my family. The discovery that 25% of my ancestry is now unknown is somewhat overwhelming. Would I do the DNA testing again knowing what I would find? Yes! I would suggest though that anyone embarking on a DNA journey understand that there may be surprises in store for them.

  2. The biggest problem I am seeing with hints on the various websites is that new information is hidden in a fog of duplicates.

    A few months ago I put a portion of my wife’s family tree on My Heritage to see what would come up as far as hints. We has been working hard over the past couple of years getting her family in good shape on FamilySearch’s Family Tree by merging, editing and sourcing so we may be in a different situation than a lot of people just starting out.

    Her tree of 2341 people has generated 1839 record matches in the following categories:

    FamilySearch Family Tree: 965 hints - These are all records we maintain in Family Tree so of course they match. I’m just surprised all 2341 people in the My Heritage Tree aren’t listed here. Of note, you can’t attach these as sources to Family Tree, which makes sense.

    Geni World Family Tree: 650 hints - I tend to check these if I am missing information for a hint as to where to look in parish records. However, I haven’t found one of these trees yet that has any actual sources. I’m not inclined to add any of these un-sourced, un-verified, probably fifth-hand trees as sources for Family Tree.

    Norway, Baptisms, 1634-1927: 80 hints - This database is an exact copy of Family Search’s “Norway Baptisms, 1634-1927” database so there is no need to add any of these as sources from My Heritage.

    Norway Burials, 1666-1927: 30 hints - See above.

    Sweden, Baptisms, 1611-1920: 27 hints - another exact copy of a Family Search database.

    WikiTree: 24 hints - pretty much the same as Geni Trees. No sources, incomplete information, an occasional piece of data I can use to narrow down a search in parish registers. But not worthwhile to add as a source in Family Tree.

    Norway Marriages, 1660-1926: 16 hints - another exact copy of a Family Search database.

    1880, 1910, 1920, 1930 United Federal Census: 11 hints - all wrong.

    BillionGraves: 3 hints - can be attached from a FamilySearch's copy of BillionsGraves’ database, no need to attach it twice.

    Finland, Baptisms, 1657-1890: 3 hints - all wrong but in any event another exact copy of a Family Search database.

    US Public Records Index: 3 hints - all available in FamilySearch’s version of this database so again no need to attach them. This was not a database I had gotten around to looking in yet, however, so this did point me to new records I didn’t already know about.

    1841 and 1911 England & Wales Census: 2 hints - both wrong.

    Sweden Burials, 1649-1920: 1 hint - wrong, but if it had been right, I would attach the source through the Family Search database of which this is a copy.

    Sweden Household Examination Books, 1880-1920: 24 hints - these are actually useful since the microfilms are not indexed on Family Search. About half of these hints are correct. I probably won’t add them as sources, however, since I have already attached the un-indexed images of these records on FamilySearch to Family Tree as sources.

    To summarize, of the 1839 potential sources from Record Matches, 90% just point to other trees, the vast majority of which have no sources, 9.2% were already attached on Family Tree from databases on FamilySearch or were incorrect, and 0.8% were useful.

    For someone who has not worked much in FamilyTree or is just starting out, I’m sure the Record Matches are a lot more useful, but I have other more pressing tasks right now than searching through all the hints presented on our My Heritage tree for that 0.8%.

    1. Thanks for the very detailed insight. I guess I haven't had the inclination to analyze the records like you did, but I certainly see your point.

    2. Gordon, you have crystallized what I have had intuitively felt about these sites. Thank you.