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

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Basic Steps in Cleaning Up the FamilySearch Family Tree

Whether you are currently deeply involved in researching and adding new names to the Family Tree or just now beginning to learn about how to sign on, we all have the same basic challenges. I know I have written about this topic a number of times over the years but it is always a good idea to get back to the basics. 

First, a relatively brief review of where we are today with the Family Tree. The FamilySearch Family Tree was introduced by the product manager Ron Tanner in 2013 at the annual RootsTech Conference. The introduction of this "new" website program signaled the abandonment of the older program which was introduced in 2009. However, shortly after the FamilyTree was introduced, it became abundantly clear that the data in the program with all its defects had been used to seed the new Family Tree. This data included records from the old Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index, Pedigree Resource File, membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and some of the Church's Temple records. Each of these huge databases had its own peculiarities and problems for genealogists. In addition, during the time that was being used, many additional records were added including a significant number of duplicate records. The program (website) did not have any restrictions on adding duplicate records. All of these records including the errors, duplicates, wrong conclusions, and imaginary pedigrees ended up in the Family Tree. 

Note: if you need a review about the content of each of those databases you can click in the links for a more extensive explanation. If you have any questions about see the following: Why Was Turned Off: Frequently Asked Questions. Quoting one statement from that article:
Q: Why can’t new.FamilySearch remain as a read only database rather than getting rid of it?

A: Over time, much of the data in this database became badly flawed and incorrect. Using new.FamilySearch, even as a viewable source, could easily confuse people and lead to even worse conclusions in Family Tree. (emphasis added)
All five of these seed databases were essentially user-submitted entries no consistent review about the accuracy or completeness of the entries. None of the entries in the initial FamilySearch Family Tree and almost all of the subsequently added entries lacking supporting source citations can be considered to be accurate from a genealogical perspective. Think about this when you jump back generations in the Family Tree and start doing research on remote family lines dating into and before the 1700s. Unless you have verified and believe all of the connections from you to your ancestors are correct and supported by sources cited from historical records, you are simply starting your research in fantasy land. 

The effect of using the data from the old program insured that the Family Tree started with a huge number of duplicate entries and other persistent problems inherited from the older submissions. It is important to understand that prior to the programed features that have been added to the Family Tree program (website) to detect and resolve duplicate entries, there were no effective limitations on the number of duplicate entries that had been submitted to the five earlier databases. There were millions of duplicates and there still is an indiscernible number in the Family Tree today.

Initially, some of the individuals in the Family Tree could have had hundreds of duplicate entries. The programming done by FamilySearch eventually eliminated millions of those duplicates but many, many more are still lurking in the recesses of the Family Tree waiting to be merged,

Subsequently, there is a hierarchy of tasks that need to be done to "clean up" the entries. Ignoring this need to clean up the Family Tree simply means that anything you do or add will likely be either wrong or at the least for people who are not related to you at all. By the way, just so you realize that there are people cleaning up the Family Tree, I clean up entries regardless of whether or not I am actually related to the people whose entries I am cleaning up. This is particularly true about entries for "descendants" when I suspect that the lines showing how I am related are suspect. 

Now, what do we need to do to fix this situation? Presently, there is an overwhelming general impression that the immediate and ultimate goal of the Family Tree is to add new names. If this is a valid goal, then there is an urgent need to clean up the existing entries. My own experience is that cleaning up the entries in the Family Tree automatically produces hundreds (thousands) of new people added because of the sloppiness of the previous research. 

Here are the steps that we need to go through to clean up the Family Tree:

1. Carefully review every entry currently in the Family Tree for completeness and accuracy. Review every source attached and read and/or review every attached memory. This is not an optional exercise. If you haven't read and reviewed every source and memory for each individual you work with, you have no business changing or adding information to individuals in the Family Tree. Don't cause more errors and confusion by ignoring this requirement. If you ignore the sources and memories, you are just making more work for those of us who did the original research.  

2. Standardize all dates and verify and standardize all locations (i.e. places). Make sure that the place listed for each event in every entry is consistent with the reality of the time period involved. Always look up any places you are not familiar with a look at where they are on a map such as Google Maps. Especially look for consistency in where children listed in the families were born. Remember the First Rule of Genealogy: When the baby was born, the mother was there. 

3. Start researching every entry (every single person) by adding any appropriate Record Hints. Do not add record hints that are inapplicable or incorrect. Think about what you are doing. Does it make sense? If you don't have research skills, start by learning before you simply increase the errors and duplicates already in the Family Tree. 

4. Continue doing more research until each entry is supported by multiple historical records including source citations to those records. Any entry with no sources should be considered inaccurate or wrong until supported by a historical source. If an individual in the Family Tre has only one source, remember that only the information in that one source is verified. For example, a birth or christening record does not validate a marriage. 

5. Be sure to copy all information from the historical records into the entries for each person. 

6. Resolve any potential duplicates including using the feature to look for similar names. 

7. Standardize the dates and places over and over as new sources are added. 

If you do not know enough to perform all of these steps, take the time to learn about how to do any of these steps before doing anything. In my opinion, learning how to do genealogy right is counted as more important than simply doing something especially if what is done is wrong. 

As I write this, I have just spent a considerable amount of time correcting entries with no sources listed, no complete names, dates that were somehow imagined to be correct, and no connections to anyone else in the Family Tree. I hope my frustration came through in this post. 

If you don't know how to do anything I have mentioned in this post, start here

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