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

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Response to comments on the stability of the FamilySearch Family Tree

I received an extensive comment in response to my post entitled, "Jumpstart Your Family History in Ten Steps: Step Three -- Correcting entries and adding sources." Normally, I would address these issues in my Rejoice, and be exceeding glad... blog, but since the comments were made here, I will answer them here. I may not reproduce the entire post, but only those portions that need further response. Here I go with my reply. The comments from the commentator are indented.
I am related to several colonial Virginia families, and on the 17th and early 18th century families I watch and loosely watch, I am seeing their profiles on FamilySearch Family Tree getting worse not better, without constant attention.

It seems there is a human tendency to want to have exact dates and places, middle names, and parents for every profile. There is also a tendency once something is in print to not question it further.
The nature of the Family Tree is that is accumulates all sorts of pre-existing data from multiple sources. The further back in time you go, you will naturally have a greater pool of potential respondents. The original data in the Family Tree goes back over a hundred years, so you can expect that many people have inherited the data, wrong or right, that has been promulgated for that period of time. I suggest that focusing on the 17th and even the 18th Century until the Family Tree settles down will prove to be very frustrating. Your efforts need to be directed to solidifying earlier entries until you have eliminated many of the controversial individuals merely by discovering that you are not really related to them at all.

Making the assumption that what you have recorded is "entirely accurate" and that any changes from your own data are "wrong" is a dangerous way to approach the Family Tree. You may be correct, but there is always the possibility that you are not and it is important to build up to these types of issues with careful, fully sourced entries.
Some new additions are easy to correct, such as finding out that an ancestor died on the day he made his will, though the will was then, if that is correct, held by the heirs for a full year before they presented it to the Court. Mothers who marry their sons-in-law that is pretty easy to figure out. Multiple women married to the same man with the same names and birth dates within a 10 year span can usually safely be merged. And these are recent additions.

Requiring us to type something in the "Reason This Information Is Correct" block, helps though I am developing a strong aversion to "per gedcom" or "my gedcom." If the term "gedcom" is typed in that block, I suggest the "Save" button not be enabled.
Watching and correcting new, unacceptable entries in the Family Tree is one of the basic functions of building an accurate and stable product. Entries that are unsupported by sources or when the source is trivial, such as "GEDCOM" or some such nonsense should be automatically reversed or corrected.
Another ingredient that seems to make the situation worse is an article published in the early 20th century about the family. A lot has been learned since then, and some of what was written was incorrect, however the information from those articles is still being added. 
For the Calvert family of Stafford and Prince William Counties, Virginia, people add exact dates and places that are not known and relationships to prominent people from earlier 20th century published sources or from their gedcom data where there is no support.
Rooting out traditionally recorded errors will be one of the biggest challenges of maintaining the Family Tree. We can never expect that our "corrections" will remain corrected as long as there are people who are unwilling to think before they make changes. But the incidence of this happening will become less and less and finally disappear over time. Again, here the issue is trying to work back so early in time when the Family Tree is still in flux. I can assure you that the changes die off as you add sources and address those who continue to try to make changes. The Family Tree is a "last man (or woman) standing" type of program.

Here I omit some of the commentary from the original comment. You can see the entire comment on the blog post cited above.
I guess my points are profiles of people living in colonial Virginia families in the 17th and early 18th century that I watch are not getting better, but worse. The issue seems to be a human need for completeness and is exacerbated if information about the family was published in the early 20th century, ie., if it is published it has to be true and I don’t need to do further research
Yes, there are some pretty silly opinions and some very casual users of the Family Tree, but these people seem to disappear from participation over time. Again, the issue here is that you started with a huge pool of these people. You should have let them fight it out among themselves and only stepped in when the changes stopped happening. You have to wait a while until these people get their opinions and old, inaccurate data out of their own system and stop looking at the Family Tree. Believe me, it takes a while but then when you work up to  or back to this level, you can begin to do the work properly. Remember, the Family Tree is the solution, not the problem. Your relatives have always had this inaccurate information for over a hundred years and it isn't going to be resolved overnight.


  1. I still agree FamilySearch Family Tree is the solution, perhaps the Calvert family is an aberration, however I have carefully traced back to and filled in the lineage to George Calvert and his son John. The former appears to have lived entirely in the 17th century and the latter lived into the early years of the 18th century. I have entered every event in their lives backed by the source where that event is found. I have uploaded digital copies of the most important source documents. There are no other records that have been found for these men in the research done over the last 120 years by countless people, amateur and paid professionals.

    George Calvert is an end-of-line person based on the state of research as of today, however on average about every two or three weeks he is given parents, whose names were first published in two articles from the first two decades of the 20th century that allow our lineage to be traced back to Lord Baltimore. Each time the parents are added by a different contributor. And then the exact dates and places start to fill the blanks for which there is no information available.

    One person told me concerning another relationship issue in this family a generation later, he did not care what the sources indicated he would hold on to his cherished beliefs until the end of the world and he was going to construct his version of our family in another part of FamilySearch Family Tree, not linked to the area we are working in.

    Alas, I suppose the only thing to do is to, yet again, unlink the parents and provide the 167 word rationale that I use as a canned response.

    1. If that person actually said that in print, I would forward that to FamilySearch and let them deal with the problem. This is not a topic that will go away anytime soon.