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

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Change is good: The FamilySearch Family Tree

Handling the changes made to the FamilySearch Family Tree?

It has now been going on nine years since the introduction of the Family Tree website. During the entire time the Family Tree has been online, I have been hearing exactly the same complaints about changes being made to the Family Tree. Despite the fact that after this considerable amount of time and the spectacular growth of both the Family Tree and the whole website, Users focus on the particularly narrow issue of change and ignore the benefits of having a stable, easily accessible, free, dependable, and extremely useful website. 

I have written on this and similar topics many times. Here is one example, "Why do we need the Family Tree?"

What about changes? First of all, the Family Tree is based on a wiki program where users can contribute content and edit existing content. This idea makes some people nervous and upset basically because they believe that what they contribute is perfect and any change is a threat to their belief. The fact that I am still writing about this subject after almost nine years is an indication of the depth of those user beliefs. 

Here in the United States, we have been bombarded with a deluge of crackpot conspiracy theories and widely disseminated misinformation. Some of which has been intentionally disseminated. Apparently, the issue of trying to spread information without checking the source or reliability of the source is endemic in our society. This is NOT a political issue. It is a societal disease. When entries to the Family Tree are supported by exhaustive source citations and Memories, the entries become stable and rarely subject to change. The key to avoiding changes is easy to set out in a short series of steps. The key to keep from being misled by FALSE NEWS is exactly the same process. Extensively research everything and anything before becoming upset with what other people are saying and doing and don't you dare pass along rumors, conspiracy theories, or anything similar. We are genealogists and therefore responsible to be accurate. 

Step #1: Take the time to fully document every single person in your family lines. Start with the first dead people in your family lines and systematically work back in time adding every single available source you can find. Make sure you carefully evaluate and add every record hint suggested by the Family Tree program. 

Step #2: Carefully watch or follow star on every person where you care about seeing changes. Look at your Watch List to make sure you really want to know about the changes to all the people listed. I am presently watching 346 people and this is adequate to maintain the integrity of my part of the Family Tree. 

Step #3: Continue to carefully and completely document every addition you make to the Family Tree. Do not watch or worry about people in the Family Tree who have no documentation unless you have a specific reason for doing so. 

Step #4: Make sure you are receiving the weekly notifications from FamilySearch about changes to the people you are following. Read the notice and look at every change that gives you any concern. 

Step #5: Make all the needed corrections that appear on the change email. Make sure your corrections are supported by more than adequate documentation, i.e. sources. 

Step #6: Take the time to explain your corrections to each and every person making an improper change. I use some standard responses that I have saved on my OneNote program and copy and paste the response, modified if needed, to every person making an incorrect change. Make sure you are not trying to correct accurate information. If you chance to change one of the people I am following, you will hear from me. 

Step #6: Keep doing this over and over. Over time, you will find that the number of unsubstantiated changes will diminish substantially or disappear. 

You have to take all these steps. If the person you are watching keeps changing, then come forward in time and start documenting the connections to that person. If you are trying to correct changes in a person who is not documented you are wasting your time. 

Luck is not involved. Consistency is more important than any other consideration. 


  1. I'm glad you mentioned this! I help out in the FamilySearch Community groups sometimes, and a common complaint is that people keep messing with the Family Tree and adding spurious or clearly untrue information. Some people get really upset that when they report repeated erroneous changes to FamilySearch as abuse, and then are told that the other user's actions do not constitute abuse of the system.

    It's difficult to get them to understand that the FS Family Tree is a user-edited wiki, not an unchangeable repository for information. A user's actions can only be ruled as abuse when they are clearly not trying to contribute constructively to the Family Tree--otherwise, it has nothing to do with how incorrect they are. Getting into an edit conflict with another user over facts you disagree on is not a case of abuse, just a case of disagreement.

    (One of my great-aunts has been going through our side of the family and changing ancestors' names from their spelling on official documents to the spellings she "knows" are right, after I meticulously worked through all those family members and made sure their vital information was as accurate as possible. I tried to explain this to her, and she just insisted she was right and changed them back. I'm just going to let the matter lie because those people already have their temple work done anyway, and it's not worth upsetting her over.)

    So yes, people making edits that conflict with the evidence is super annoying, but I agree that the best thing to do about it is just keep providing that definitive documentation. One user may be completely opposed to the idea that their information is incorrect, but that won't change the fact that with the proper documentation, other users can plainly see that this user's edits are erroneous and are to be disregarded. And just like any bad conspiracy theory, the user's ideas will gradually wither and fade.

    1. Sometimes you have to choose your battles. Thanks for the kind comment.