Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My FamilySearch experiment Part II

You can read Part I HERE.

I think Legacy has the most advanced error checking tools of any program so I was pretty excited to see what all Legacy would find. I did clear out a couple of global errors manually because I didn’t want the Potential Problems Report to be artificially inflated. Before I got started, I did a check/repair on the file. For Legacy users this would be File > File Maintenance > Check/Repair. If you are using one of the other programs make sure you do whatever maintenance/compacting your file offers.

The second thing I did was globally sort all of the children’s lists by birth date. If children are not sorted by birth date this will appear on the Potential Problems report but in the grand scheme of things this is a minor error and I had no doubt most of the lists would be out of order. For the Legacy users, go to Tools > Other Tools > Sort Child, Marriage and Event Lists.

The third thing I did was globally changed all of the surnames to initial caps (my preference). I could have just as easily changed the surnames globally to all caps. For Legacy users, this is Option 3.3 in the customization menu. I wanted all of the surnames in one style so that it didn’t trigger a Potential Problem.

Next is the Potential Problems Report itself. For Legacy users this is Tools > Potential Problems. I reset everything to the default using the Reset button. I did want to change one of the defaults. On the “Gaps” tab I deselected all of the options. Legacy will alert you to any unusual date gaps in your children indicating possible missing children. This would have artificially inflated my problems report so I simply turned that part off. Legacy checks for 29 other potential problems/errors. You can customize the error checking quite a bit but for now I left everything at the defaults other than turning the “Gaps” off. There are other error checking tools built in and I will get to those in a moment but for now we are going to work with this main report.

I had 260 pages of errors which is over 3,300+ errors. Ouch. Some of the errors are standardization problems but a lot of the errors are quite serious such as people dying before they were born.

A separate error checker is the “County Verifier.” This only applies to US locations. These are errors where a place didn’t exist at the time of the event or the place never existed at all. I have 26 pages of errors here. You can find this at Tools > US County Verifier > US County Verification.

A really fun one that I found was someone that had 126 marriages. I am emailing FamilySearch about that one. Most of them are to the very same person (same FSID) or to a duplicate (same person, different FSID). Legacy was able to merge the people that had the same FSID number so I didn’t see as many in Legacy as what was on FamilySearch.

Even though I had Legacy check for duplicates on import I still have 9504 possible duplicates using the default settings. I am not surprised because when Legacy is looking for duplicates on import it is looking for the exact duplicates. Anything more than that would slow the import down too much.

I then took a look at the Master Location List. This was pretty frightening. I have 5829 different locations but many are duplicates because it is the same location entered differently (and this would be why there are standards for data entry). Many of the entries aren’t even locations. I have “murdered” as a location. I have some weird numbers such as 24-1352 and 40-1592 that I have no idea what those are. Some of the other things I found in a location field are, “alternate birth name,” “Rhydderch ap t, “John’s wife,” “he was a carpenter,” ”3rd Lord of Berkeley,” “A convent,” “wp,” “Scotsman,” and it goes on and on.

Another search I can do is “All Records With Bad Dates.” This is found at Search > Find and then click the Miscellaneous tab.  Only 36 people had bad dates which is better than I expected.

Here is another fun one. I looked at the File Statistics which is at Tools > Statistics. This one had me rolling on the floor. The individual that lived the longest in this file was someone that lived 675 years, 6 months and 13 days to be followed by someone that lived 364 years and 9 months. The longest marriage comes in at 94 years, 11 months and 6 days.  Not bad.  The most popular given name in the file is “?” (you knew that was coming didn’t you).

Three points:

1) Don’t believe everything you see on FamilySearch
2) There is still a lot of cleanup needed (please help!)
3) If your program can’t do this kind of error checking it might be time for you to switch to Legacy (shameless plug)


Copyright © 2017 Michèle Simmons Lewis


  1. thank you for doing this - fascinating. scary. horrified. not surprised.

  2. I love FamilySearch research collections and use them a lot. When I have a family pretty well set up (with my own research and with citations, I will sometimes do a compare to FamilySearch trees to get ideas and hints for further research. I rarely participate anymore, though sometimes I will correct an egregious error (including citations and not just a sentence about why I think this change is correct because... sheesh). But with one exception, I no longer "collaborate". As fast as errors are fixed, they replicate. Here's an example: I worked on a tree for a relative-in-law who knew almost nothing about her family beyond her parents. I managed to track her father's family back to the 1700s, though her mother's family only to the late 1800s (Native ties can be the devil to find if they didn't make it onto the rolls). I started a tree for her on FamilySearch, and hoped it would draw out some cousins. It did, and for some time until my relative's death there were three of us contributing to the tree. It was a good experience. The day I went to add the death info for my relative, I discovered that someone who did not appear even to be related had deleted most of the work we'd done, and substituted (by merging, apparently) her own "research", which was so far off track that I cried. I have come across that sort of thing repeatedly in working on my own tree. One of my favorites is a ggggf of mine who is claimed to have been a Colonel in the War of 1812, complete with oil portrait. During the War of 1812, my ggggf was busy making babies in Tennessee. I have found records for another man with the same name as my ggggf who did serve briefly as a driver in the War, but not as a part of a regiment. I have traced this man to another family. Can I get this through? Nope. Nope. Nope.

    Thank you for the illustration of the pitfalls of taking online trees for granted. To me, they can be helpful if I first to the research and am looking for others who've followed the same trail and have some info I might not have found yet. But I DO NOT COPY AND PASTE! I follow through on the research and verify. I've found some good insights, but I've also found that a citation does not always say what people think it says. Doing my own work first saves me a lot of wasted time, because I can often see where someone else has gone off-track. One of my cousins did some good work and I've gotten some good hints from it. But she also completely missed our line's move to Tennessee, and linked to the wrong guy in Illinois, then linked HIM to our line in New England.

    Sorry for the rant. Error checking is needed if people download trees. But the kind of entry errors found in this kind of checking isn't enough. Research and analysis errors are even more difficult to catch--unless you do the research and carefully analyze it, and make good citations that hold up under scrutiny. That is the essence of genealogy. Software gives us a way to organize it, and web resources are a marvel in helping us access a lot of info that can give us a headstart when we get out to the libraries and basement archives. But all of it depends on good research and analysis that is solidly documented.

    Rant over. Sorry about that. It's been building a while.

  3. And that is exactly why your research needs to be on your computer. There are people that do all their work online and then when someone comes behind them and deletes or merges etc. you lose everything :(

  4. Michele,

    I want to let you know that two of your blog posts are listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  5. Wow! I use RootsMagic and have no idea what kinds of problems it can detect. I guess it's time for me to educate myself! I hope to stick with RootsMagic, but I'm impressed with Legacy!