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

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Saga of Francis Cooke on the FamilySearch Family Tree

One of my ancestors is Francis Cooke who was a passenger on the Mayflower. He is what I call a revolving door ancestor. I am watching him on Family Tree and every week I get an update of the changes made to his entry. He currently has 57 sources listed and 50 Memories. There are few people who were born in the 1500s that are more completely documented than the Mayflower passengers. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants or Mayflower Society has an extensive set of books called the "Silver Books" documenting every one of the accepted Mayflower passengers. Every statement about every passenger has been evaluated and compared to original documents and records. There is very little controversy about any of the entries in those books. If any new information is discovered, it is carefully reviewed by the Society's genealogists and added to the books. It takes years to get an alternative theory accepted.

You would have to dedicate years of your life and perhaps thousands of dollars to even get to the point where you could begin to find any new information about any one of the Mayflower passengers.

That brings us to the situation that exists with Francis Cooke in the Family Tree. Every week someone has made changes to his entry and someone else has to go through the changes and reverse the unsupported information added.

There has been some talk at the FamilySearch about requiring a source before making any changes to the Family Tree. With entries such as Francis Cooke and other individuals who are extensively documented there is no question that sources have been added. I do get unsupported changes to my ancestors almost constantly, but in this case, these individuals need to be evaluated and either made Read Only or some other step taken to avoid the colossal waste of time that it takes to maintain these well-documented individuals.

Another possible solution has been suggested that someone from the family be appointed the official gatekeeper for some of these people. The gatekeeper or gatekeeper committee would be the only ones allowed to make changes to the individual.

Some mechanism needs to be put in place to stop these revolving doors. The integrity and credibility of the Family Tree is really what is at stake.


  1. Yep, the same thing happens with George Soule also. Every week I get changes - someone adds parents, someone else takes them off. Discussions don't seem to help because some people don't know they are there.

    1. You are right, the discussion don't seem to help much.

  2. My recollection is that you recently wrote about this, and I was tempted to ask what can be done to improve the situation. You have answered my query in your last two paragraphs. A recent post also tempted me to comment as well, but I refrained for some reason. I only comment when I have something to say. Blogs could be compared in some ways to library books - how many times does the author know how times it is read!

    1. Yes, this is a recurring topic. I have some idea about how many times my blogs are read, but the actual number is unavailable.

  3. I have a love hate relationship with the Family Search Tree. I feel that it is the best place to share my historic family photos. Access is free and the photos will be preserved for all to see (much better than hidden away in a box in the closet). But trying to keep my ancestor pages in good order is exhausting. (I know they are not "mine" but they are the people I know and care most about in the collective tree). I started to write out the details of one of my recent experiences but the Francis Cooke story is a good illustration. Unsourced changes are being made every day to persons a lot less famous and well-documented than Francis Cooke - worse are the ones where "Gedcom" is the source - creating LOTS of duplicates. I also fear what will happen to the photos I share when someone decides to change a profile. The elements from the blog post above that resonate are "colossal waste of time" and "integrity and credibility." These problems are wearing down the resolve of participants. I am not yet ready to dismiss the FS Tree as not worth the effort - but I am close.

  4. Have you had any luck individually messaging the person who makes the changes, like in this case, Guy Lamoyne Black? Are the changes from different patrons each time? Do you know if these patrons are being "prompted" by FSFT "hints" (you would probably see the hints, as well)?

  5. While I understand your frustration as it happens to me as well, weekly, once you start appointing gatekeepers and locking profiles you lose what is the biggest benefit and -- the largest detriment -- that anyone can change a profile. Where would you draw the line that is really the issue.

    One approach that WikiTree takes is to make people who want to change 17th century profiles take a test that sets forth the criteria it thinks is required to make changes. A person passes the test once they have selected all the correct answers.

    The other would be only lock profiles for individuals like Mayflower passengers.

    This is mainly a problem for the people who lived before the mid-18th century.

    Just take care that the cure does not kill the patient. No longer the world's family tree but the gatekeepers' family tree.

  6. There is only one thing that will stop this sort of thing: stop everyone editing all of the tree. Previously I have advocated putting a genealogical ability test in which will unlock the ability to edit those before say 1750. Those of us who are decent genealogists would have no problem passing it as we have a good knowledge of history and geography, and more important the ability to find information that we don't know about.

    What this would hopefully weed out are the drive-by edits by ignorant/ignorant and stupid/or just plain stupid users who change things without bothering to do the least bit of background study or checking of the sources. Ignorance can be cured, and hopefully a well-crafted test would make sure that it has been cured enough before opening up the older records to editing.

    However I think that the chances of this being implemented are pretty much zero. It's the same problem that is currently causing a really serious furore over at the Getsatisfaction forums when the issue of GEDCOM imports comes up. What I mean by that is there are those at Familysearch who refuse to see the problems with the model that they have adopted and to take proper steps to fix those problems. It's worthless edits and even edit-wars with people like Francis Cooke and George Soule; and it's a plague of duplicates unleashed by the awful matching algorithm that is used for the GEDCOM import function. In both cases FSFT personnel have seemingly stuck their fingers in their ears and started humming extremely loudly, hoping the problem will go away.

    Put a genealogy knowledge and research test in before early records on FSFT can be edited and permanently end the ability to import records using GEDCOM and two major issues would at least be mitigated substantially.