FamilySearch’s Family Tree has been the topic of conversation this week on the Association of Professional Genealogist’s (APG) mailing list with both pro and con postings. The conversation got a bit heated at times which of course made me think that this topic would make a good blog post.
FamilySearch is in the process of transitioning its online family trees from NewFamilySearch to Family Tree. NewFamilySearch was the precursor and was put in place to get the program up and running and to work out the kinks. Family Tree is the final product though you can certainly expect more changes and updates. Members of the LDS church and some non LDS beta testers had/have access to NewFamilySearch. Everyone has access to FamilyTree. One day NewFamilySearch will go away completely though we are still using it to make corrections.
In a nutshell, Family Search’s Family Tree is a collaborative effort to make a single family tree that contains everyone linked correctly (in theory). Some people will continue to keep their research in a stand-alone genealogy program such as Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree or RootsMagic in addition to uploading their information to Family Tree but there will also be people that keep all of their information exclusively in Family Tree. I love the concept but there is a long road ahead to get the program where it should be.
There are several problems. Some researchers will be uploading information that hasn’t been researched thoroughly or sourced. Some researchers will link or unlink people in error. One of the biggest problems is that anyone can change what you have uploaded. For example, if I have William Houston Simmons married to Docia Leora Perry, someone can come behind me and unlink them and then say that William Houston Simmons was really married to Addie Velula Perry. I can go back and fix it but then you can create a war between two researchers with the two of them going back and forth between the corrections. Family Tree is hoping this can be avoided with the use of sources and discussions between the contributors but I am not really confident about this. I can’t tell you how many times I have sent a message to someone on Ancestry.com pointing out an error and including the pertinent sources to only be ignored or rebuffed.
Another problem is that the old Ancestral File was imported to NewFamilySearch (and now Family Tree) as the starting point information. The Ancestral file is a collection of GEDCOMs uploaded to the LDS church from 1979 to 2003. Please read this FamilySearch wiki on the Ancestral File to understand the implications of this. In a nutshell, this is a collection of millions of names and links with no sources and no contributor information. When the Ancestral File was being used, the contributor information was displayed and you could write the person a letter. All of the contributor information has since been purged. You can tell which info came from the Ancestral File because the contributor will be listed as “FamilySearch.”
There are of course some good things. The program does give you the ability to correct mistakes and compare notes with other researchers. Unlike Ancestry.com which is a collection of individual trees, Family Tree has all of the uploaded information connected so there is only one tree. HOWEVER, this isn’t actually true because there are still a gazillion duplicates, people linked incorrectly and other people not linked at all. The program is still in its infancy so it will take a very long time to get it all straightened out.
I also like that each unique person is issued an ID number. Legacy (the genealogy program that I use) displays the number so I know that their person has been identified as unique. This is similar to the old Ancestral File’s numbering system if you are familiar with that. For example, Silas Simmons, son of James Simmons and Ellenor Lee is KDM1-8B5. I even have my own number! I am LCRV-38D.
Before you get started with Family Tree, please take a look at all of the Training Materials that are available. This is VERY important. Please do not haphazardly upload your file to Family Tree. You will make a lot more work for everyone else as they try and clean up the data.
Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis