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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

How do we determine the accuracy of the Family Tree

Ever since the Family Tree was released, there have been questions about its accuracy. These concerns were based, in part, on the wiki structure and operation of the website. For a number of years, there was a controversy, which probably continues today, about the accuracy of Wikipedia in particular and other wikis generally. Here is a link to an article from about reliability. "Wikipedia:Wikipedia is not a reliable source." Here is one interesting quote from the article.

Articles are only as good as the editors who have been editing them—their interests, education, and background—and the efforts they have put into a particular topic or article. Since we try to avoid original research, a particular article may only be as good as (a) the available and discovered reliable sources, and (b) the subject may allow.

Hmm. If you know anything about the accuracy controversy surrounding the Family Tree, you may recognize that this statement certainly applies to the Family Tree as well as to the vast Wikipedia.  Essentially, any entry on either website without a reliable source is fundamentally unreliable. Here is just one example from perhaps millions of entries that do not have any source information on the Family Tree. 

On the other hand, millions of sources are being added to the Family Tree yearly and according to FamilySearch there are over 2.34 billion sources already attached to the individuals in the Family Tree. 

One possible indicator of the accuracy of the Family Tree could be the percentage of people who are added to the Family Tree each day, week, or year without sources as opposed to entries made with at least one source and a percentage of the total number of new entries each year. Unfortunately, telling us the total number of sources doesn't answer that question. From my own experience, some of the individuals in my part of the Family Tree have more than a hundred supporting sources, while as the example above illustrates, there are a large number of people with no sources (finding an entry without a source is extremely easy.) 

I think that making statements about the overall reliability of the Family Tree are not helpful. Vast parts of the Family Tree have been extensively documented and are as reliable as any historical record can be. The one caveat to this conclusion is the reality that even totally reliable and sourced entries are not immune to senseless change by someone who has not reviewed the existing sources and adds none of their own. Therefore, the reliability of the Family Tree is swallowed up by its unpredictability. Even though I have an entry (a person) in the Family Tree whose information is completely supported by reliable sources, the person's entry could be changed anytime by someone who doesn't even bother to read the existing sources to determine if the entry accurately reflects the content of the sources provided. 

Wikipedia is a monitored wiki. That means that the Wikipedia staff and volunteers are constantly watching for changes and giving notice of an entry that is not substantiated. See Wikipedia:Core content policies. Core content policies for the Family Tree do not exist. In fact, part of the core content of the Family Tree is diametrically opposite those of Wikipedia. Here is what Wikipedia says about original research. 

No original research (WP:NOR) – Wikipedia does not publish original thought: all material in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source. Articles may not contain any new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources.

You don't have to look very far to find information in the Family Tree that contains a new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources. See all the changes made to the Mayflower passengers for a real-time example. 

Could the Family Tree become accurate? Probably, if there were some core content policies and there was some way of monitoring and enforcing those policies. The overriding question is whether or not core content policies will ever be adopted or enforced or even considered.

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