Thursday, April 4, 2013

FamilySearch’s Family Tree

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 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 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


  1. Thanks for the link to the training materials here, Michelle. Hadn't seen them. I agree wholeheartedly that just uploading a gedcom is a really bad idea. Read *disaster* for any largish ged, or for one with several lines that go well back.
    I have been dipping my toe in. My new version RootsMagic 6 shakes hands with the Family Tree very well, and I have been able to go in and work on duplicates, add sources, add a death date, or a couple of kids, add some life info, etc. I am looking forward to discussions on a couple of people.
    I can see uploading a limited ged for a small subline, and linking it to the tree already there, for a sibling line that doesn't appear anywhere. But for now, even that's a bad idea. Perhaps later....
    The point, after all, is not to "upload my tree to the Tree". It's to help work on, and carefully complete, correct, and source the Tree. That puts "my families" into the Tree the right way!

  2. I think that when NewFamilySearch (nFS) first came out people were just so excited that they started uploading stuff willy nilly. Even though it was only LDS members and a few non LDS beta testers that is still a lot of records. The entire Ancestral File is up there too which is not sourced either. Another problem was that each source has to be hand typed in. I am hoping they will fix it so that sources will upload as well.

    It is what it is. The concept is great so it will just take some patience to get it where it needs to be :)

  3. Michele,

    I want to let you know that this post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Michelle - thanks for your post on the Family Search Family Tree. You seem to be the first person blogging openly on this topic. I appreciate reading your discussion of the pros and cons which align with what I'm seeing with the tool.

    I have been using this new tool for the Shackford family tree since it was open to non LDS members and find that I'm spending a lot of time cleaning up duplicate information, fixing errors, and adding Shackfords. I find it's a good process as it is forcing me to relook at and verify information before adding.

    I've added source material from FamilySearch but find that time consuming -- you have to go out of the tree, into the source area, add the source to a pick list, and go back into the Family Tree, pick the correct source and add it to the right person. I've created a folder in my source box called - Added to Family Tree so I can track what sources I've added.

    Regarding the unique numbers - I've wondered what happens if a user was keeping the ID identifier (ex the KDM1-8B5 you mention) in their Legacy tool but then a FamilySearch Family Tree user decided that this was a duplicate person and and merged them with another person with ID XXXX-XXX. Does something still connect your KDM1-8B5 to this person although the XXX-XXX is now the lead ID for this person?

    Also if there are currently two systems out there right now, when the New Family Tree goes away -- will all the people in that system roll into Family Tree creating more duplicates of the people I (and probably many others)just cleaned up? If so, I might delay my (and other user's) efforts merging until there is only one system so I do this cleanup work once...

    Again, I appreciate your post on this topic and especially your comment that "this is a great concept and it will take patience to get it where it needs to be".

  5. Just for fun I find someone that had a couple of dups and I combines them to see what would happen to the ID numbers. My original person kept his original ID number and the duplicates were merged into my number. I tried searching for the ID numbers of the people I merged and those numbers no longer exist. I am assuming that those people that had the merged people in their tree will find that their ID numbers have changed since the last time they logged on.

    As far as your 2nd question goes, I don't think so. I think that New FamilySearch and Family Tree can actually talk to each other. When they take New FamilySearch down I don't think any additional duplicates will be created.