Monday, December 26, 2016

Let’s make FamilySearch’s Family Tree better for everyone

I am a big supporter of FamilySearch’s Family Tree. Yes, there are problems with a collaborative tree but I think the pros outweigh the cons. The biggest issue is that people complain when others come behind them and make changes. There are a couple of things I want to say about that.

  • All of your research should be on YOUR computer. You should not be using FamilySearch as your genealogy database program. I think it is a mistake to use FamilySearch that way. People can change what is on FamilySearch but no one can change what is on your computer. You can easily sync to FamilySearch using one of the authorized programs (I use Legacy) which gives you full control over what is uploaded and downloaded.
  • They aren’t “your” ancestors. These ancestors belong to other people too. Here is a fun Descendants Calculator. I set it at 5 generations, 25 years per generation, and 4 for an average number of children (a very conservative number). This person would have 3,905 descendants.  I am sure more than one of these descendants is a genealogist.

So here are a few suggestions on how you can help make the Family Tree better:

If you don’t know what you are doing you can mess it up for everyone else 
This is my biggest pet peeve.  People get excited and try to make changes to the Family Tree without taking the time to educate themselves on how everything works. Adding people, merging people, and deleting people affects EVERYONE who has those ancestors in their tree.  The very best training I have found is the
Riverton FamilySearch Library Handouts. There are 11 pdfs you can download to your computer to read and use as a reference. They include screenshots and Riverton updates them as needed. These are the handouts I use when I give a presentation on FamilySearch (with permission). 

Take the time to address the possible duplicates
A lot of people don’t address possible duplicates. They have FSID ABC-1234 in their tree and they only worry about updating this FSID. All of the programs that can sync will present you with a list of possible duplicates. If you are working directly on the FamilySearch website you will also be presented with a list of possible duplicates. The two mistakes you can make are not combining duplicates when you should and merging people haphazardly when you shouldn’t. If there is any question, don’t merge. Please see the
Riverton Handouts for more information.

Please add your sources
Other researchers need to know where you got your information because if it conflicts with what they have and you don’t have a source, chances are they are going to update the person with their information knocking your data off.

Take advantage of the Discussions area
This is a great place to post your theories and evidence for other researchers to ponder and add their thoughts.

Make sure your email address/contact information is correct
Nothing is more frustrating to a researcher than not being able to contact a contributor when they have a question.

If you use Legacy, here is the training information you need: Legacy FamilySearch Training.  If you use one of the other programs that can sync, check to see if they have specific training materials that address both how you use the Family Tree in general and how to use their program specifically to sync. Even if you don’t use Legacy, you might want to read the above article, especially the part about cleaning up your data before you start uploading.

Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis


  1. Mmmm....I have a tree on the site Michele, but I don't use it. I don't sync to it from Legacy. Why? For the exact reason you stated, collaberative. I highly respect your opinion and that of others who use the tree, like Randy Seaver. I believe the other reason I don't use it is because I don't have all the tools in regards to how to use it properly. Thank you for the info about the PDF's. One of my goals in 2017 is finding new ways to research and this could be one of them.

    1. No you do not have "a tree on the site". Nobody does. And that's the point being made...That there is just one tree. Collaboration works both ways. People who make updates to "your" data should contact you and discuss otential issues. But so should you be doing that when you're about to make changes that affect others.

  2. I too have similar issues with the Family Tree. That said, I was blown away recently at the new home page. To access this, one must have put family tree information on the website AND sign in, i.e. have an account. A picture taken at the 1859 wedding of my second great uncle (a German immigrant) appeared. It is a name on my "watch list". I contacted the submitter, who has a treasure trove of family information. However, I have only added information from my tree manually, i.e. once it is accurate. It is quite irritating when people upload inaccurate
    Gedcoms and that information becomes duplicates which then must be deleted. Deleting duplicates is a royal pain on Family Search. Thanks for the links, Michele...especially the Riverton Handouts!

    1. I LOVE their handouts! The illustrations/screenshots make everything so easy to understand.

    2. I use the "watch" feature too - it's a way to get onto of any changes quickly..

  3. Thank you, Michele. I agree. It's a great resource.

  4. Michele, thank you so much for pointing me to the handouts from the Riverton FamilySearch Library. Not only are they excellent tutorials on working with FSFT, they are stellar examples of instructional handouts.

  5. Thank You Michele. I use Family Tree synced with and also have a tree on My Heritage which can give me an advantage. Always duplicates are checked. I love the new Home page for FSFT and that also now we can use it for indexing. Thank you for the link to the Riverton handouts. I look forward to your next post.

  6. Please DO NOT DELETE PEOPLE from Family Search. Disconnect, merge or correct but Do Not Delete.

    Thank you Michele. Very well put + giving people a source to educate themselves was wonderful. Just being told what to do or not do is nice but education is Great.

  7. What I would like to see on FamilySearch is a good way to keep track of my twigs without reserving them. I'm happy to happy to have others do work for these people too,but it's too hard to determine whether their work is getting done if I don't reserve them. I lose track of who and where they are. Any suggestions?

    1. I am not LDS so I can't see the ordinance screens. Maybe someone that is LDS will have some advice??

    2. I would recommend logging into Kinpoint, which ties into Family Search and checking the "dots" for each generation to see if their ordinances are being done if you prefer not to reserve them. It's an easy overview. Additionally, the companion-app, Take A Name, will allow you to see what is available to reserve and reserve it from your phone. It is a bit buggy still, and you don't really have the ability from the app to see if the name is a duplicate or has problems and such like you can from the Kinpoint computer interface, but it still is very handy to see what all is out there unreserved that needs work. You can then go in and put the numbers in and check manually on the computer, if, like me, you want to make sure you are not taking names in that are not correct.