Monday, December 28, 2009

NFS News: Media Event Excludes Online Community?

Craig Miller
Image credit: Chen Wang, Deseret News

Craig Miller, FamilySearch director of member needs, demonstrated New FamilySearch (NFS) to LDS-related media representatives recently, according to reports in the Deseret Newss LDS Church News. This writer did not receive an invitation, as he has for recent Ancestry.com blogger/media events, leading one to question FamilySearch’s understanding of online marketing. True, the event targeted media providing news exclusively to members of FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and this writer primarily attempts non-denominational coverage. But were any LDS family history writers included?

I made a quick perusal of online genealogy news sources that I consider to exclusively target the LDS audience, including Ileen Johnson’s FHCNET, Sue Maxwell’s Granite Genealogy, Renee (Zamora)’s Genealogy Blog, and Ohana Software’s Ohana Insights Blog. While Miles Meyer’s blog is not LDS-specific, his insights as one of the first adopters of New FamilySearch, his training presentations, and his participation in online communities are well known in the online LDS genealogy community. None of these have published articles from the event.

No doubt the online LDS genealogy community was passed by because they are already engaged in family history, whereas the LDS Church News and Meridian Magazine reach those not now participating. Still…

Can FamilySearch Open Up?

Long-time readers know I campaigned for years before Ancestry.com started opening up to the genealogy community. FamilySearch, now years behind, has much larger obstacles to overcome:

  • FamilySearch is part of a large, non-profit bureaucracy. Having worked in both for-profit and non-profit organizations, I think large, non-profits are inherently affected by inertia. Take the DMV, the IRS, the SSA, the military, government contractors, etc.  Change in these organizations can be glacially slow.
  • FamilySearch is part of a church that is often targeted with opportunistic lawsuits. As a result, the Church has extremely onerous intellectual property (IP) clearance processes to approve public comments. These seem to be designed to expedite dismissal of frivolous IP lawsuits. Unfortunately, the result is that the time investment involved in releasing any information is often more than most employees are willing to make.
  • Supervisors in the Church, which owns FamilySearch, have reserved the privilege of making some news announcements. As believing members of the Church, FamilySearch employees happily and willingly defer this responsibility to the Church. As a result, simple announcements that are important to the genealogy community are sometimes overlooked by the Church.

For example, coverage of the mid-December media event quotes Elder Richard J. Maynes as the Church’s executive director over FamilySearch. The news of Elder Maynes assignment as executive director was broke by the now defunct Shoebox Genealogy blog some 19 months ago, but I’ve never seen any announcement of this appointment by either the Church or FamilySearch, despite the importance to the genealogy community.

NFS Release to Non-LDS?

With the rollout of NFS to members of the Church (mostly) complete, the rest of the genealogical community are increasingly interested in when access will be given outside the Church. The LDS Church News articles made it clear that the current version of New FamilySearch is designed for Church members. Representatives of FamilySearch explained that NFS was designed to

  • Simplify the process for members who wish to perform temple ordinances for their ancestors.
  • Reduce the duplication of temple ordinances for ancestors.
  • Enable collaboration of genealogical research by providing one common pedigree for researchers.

You will notice that only the final point of the three is applicable to genealogists outside the Church. The information given to LDS media representatives is noticeably specific to Church members; no information was given about when the rollout to other genealogists will begin.

Home page of NFS provides links to tutorials, pedigree, temple ordinances
Image credit: R. Scott Lloyd, Church News

Genealogical Maturity

Miller demonstrated New FamilySearch by entering the name of a reporter’s deceased grandfather. “Immediately it became clear that the reporter’s great-aunt was in the database twice…in one instance erroneously, as she was identified as a male.” This is a common situation among data submitted by members of the Church. The Church has made a number of changes since 1969 to make family history easier for members, resulting in large amounts of erroneous information. Processes and requirements used to be genealogically sound, which made them overly complex for new members capturing first-hand knowledge.

Rather than bifurcating requirements for submission of first-hand knowledge, the Church dropped tools, training, and requirements necessary for research beyond a person’s personal knowledge. The Church dropped the requirement that submissions include sources, and eliminated evidence methodology training from its family history manuals. (Compare the 1951 A Guide for Genealogical Research, with the 2009 Members Guide and Instructors Guide. Try to find in the modern training the evidence methodology presented in Chapter 8 and elsewhere in A Guide…)

Genealogists outside the Church will cringe when ancestral lines converge with Church members’. Genealogists will then find the data used to seed NFS is predominantly genealogical maturity level (GML) one: submitters depended on compiled genealogies, depended on instinct and logic instead of evidence, sources are not present, and information about multiple individuals is often combined into one person. A GML of one is charitable where inconsistencies are present such as fathers born before sons. Hopefully, this experience doesn’t discourage outside contributors like it has some members.

While the preloaded data is clearly GML 1, here’s how I would grade the NFS software itself. GML ranges from 0 (worst) to 5 (best). See my articles on genealogical maturity level for more information. This is a little subjective, so I hesitate to give an overall score.

Category GML Comments
Sources 1 Data preloaded by FamilySearch was all compiled genealogies.
Makes source specification extremely onerous.
Does not teach the importance of source-based genealogy.
Does not teach source interpretation or ranking of sources.
Citations 1 Excludes sources specified by Ancestral File contributors.
Excludes sources specified by PRF contributors.
Excludes sources specified by TempleReady contributors.
Does not clearly identify sources of data preloaded by FamilySearch.
Specifies data load dates rather than source creation dates.
Does not support manuscript source templates.
Does not support source provenance or quality assessment.
Does not support industry standard citations.
Information 1 Does not teach primary and secondary information (vs. source).
Does not support capture of information separately from conclusions.
While the inner/outer person architecture could have been used to implement this, the large amount of preloaded compiled genealogies created IOUSes, leading to de-emphasis of this architectural feature.
Evidence 2 While NFS does not support user evaluation of evidence quality, I give it a 2 because the system has some rules employed in choosing default values for summary display.
However, it does not require evidence.
Basic API calls exclude evidence, requiring multiple calls to get sources.
Does not support correlation of indirect evidence.
Does nothing to promote proficient or stellar use of evidence.
I need to think about NFS support for conflicting evidence.
Conclusions 3 Supports selection of conclusion, discussion, and retention of conflicting evidence. (Remember, this score is for the system, not for the data or the behavior of users, which might be different.)
Does not teach or encourage sound reasoning.
Does not enable use of indirect evidence, beyond notes (although I don’t know what I expect it to do beyond notes).
Does not teach or inspire proficient conclusions in users.
Conclusion Trees 2 Uncombines are time consuming and difficult.
User interface makes analysis during combine difficult.
Does not require evidence before performing combines.
Allows merging of compiled genealogies into tree.
Does not manage evidence separately from conclusion tree.
Does not allow publication of high-quality conclusions, either directly or via data export.

Before making New FamilySearch available to genealogists outside the Church, FamilySearch must ask itself if the user experience is positive enough to encourage outside participation. If not yet good enough, will users return after incremental improvements are made?

Tell me what you think. Click on Comments, below, or send me a message that I can share publicly.

Do you agree with my evaluation? How would you score NFS? Is NFS ready for general release? Do you contribute? Why or why not? If not contributing now, what improvements must be made before you will contribute?

Sources

To read the LDS Church News articles for yourself, see:

11 comments:

  1. GIGO I think you are old enough to know what that means.
    In my line I have several family names that people have combined without much thought. (Davis/Davies, Nielsen & Johnson)I had one name which had 120 combos before I wittled it down to 34. Two weeks latter I had to do same same chore over again a third time.
    Currently I have stopped making correction because others have come by to undo them. My home record is good why take time to fight an never ending battle.

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  2. Family lines on new FamilySearch (nFS) that have a number of contributions from Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, and/or LDS Temple Records are for the most part hopelessly messed up. My father, for instance, has been entered with three different spellings of his name. It is impossible to get the incorrect spellings corrected because nFS will not allow corrections by anyone but the original contributor of the error and the contributors either have no contact information or the contributor is LDS Temple Records which cannot be changed or deleted from the database (except for unusual circumstances...error in name not being one of them). Even more dramatic is my Grandfather's record which has 12 different renderings of his name and 4 different birth dates. Most of those are also by contributors who cannot be contacted because they have left no contact information.

    The only way to remain calm in the face of this is to realize that nFS is not a place to store your genealogical information. It is a place designed to promote the efficient submission of family names for temple ordinances with minimal duplications. Once this is realized, attempts to clean up records for which temple ordinances have already been completed is abandoned in favor of the more fruitful task of entering names for which temple ordinances have not been done.

    Genealogical software such as RootsMagic or Legacy or PAF should be used to keep your own personal genealogical records. In that manner you have control over the data and needn't worry about inaccurate data coming from uninformed and imprecise, if well-meaning, people.

    It is not clear to me why people not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be interested in having access to nFS. As long as the current policies for editing are in force it will be impossible to clean up records that have had many contributors.

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  3. I wrote you an e-mail about a week after Salt Lake Temple district got to access new family search. I had read your genealogy maturity level writings, I listen to several genealogy blogs, I have been doing genealogy for about 30 years, and I was all ready to enter all my sources. I have been so frustrated with trying to enter sources in nFS - I haven't been able to figure out how to enter more than one. What physical address do you put for access to census? Census can be accessed from many sources. How do you decide between "archive" and "library"? It's dumb, and makes you not want to enter any sources, or only one, and to not be very detailed about it. I think it's sad that so much data will be entered right off the bat that is not sourced. I have very carefully sourced my genealogy, feel like there is no way to transmit that data to nFS.

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  4. As I thought about my early comments I came to the conclusion that perhaps I was too harsh and that I needed to explain, further, my feeling towards NFS.
    First off, I think that NFS has done a fantastic job in accomplishing its first two goals and for these reasons I am very much gratified that they under took and accomplished those two design goals. I have and will continue to contribute to NFS in order that I may continue to accomplish temple work for my kindred dead.
    Second off, because NFS is build on the IGI and the Ancestral File, both being devoid of notes and sources and in many, many cases loaded with astronomical errors; I do not believe that it will ever successfully accomplish its third goal for genealogical research pedigrees, prior to the twentieth century.
    For pedigrees prior to the twentieth century I do not believe it will rise above level one of the genealogical maturity level nor will it be anything more than just a record of pioneer family ancestral traditions.
    I have discontinued trying to set the record strait and will let other, with perhaps more patience than I have, undertake that chore. It is enough for me to known that the temple work for my kindred dead has been accomplished.
    The changes, I think, needed to be done to NFS to raise it above GML level one, are I believe unrealistic. Therefore, I do not believe the Family History Department should undertake such a task.

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  5. Having been a keeper of family history for 55 years (even before I joined the church) I entered names as soon as the Orlando FL temple district had NFS, but soon stopped when I found that my mother, born in 1919, married for 60 years to the same man and never farther west than NJ, was said, by 'Church Records' to be a woman of the same name born in 1917 and married in Nebraska with a family of other children. So I only put in names needing ordinances on family temple trips.
    This week I looked at it again and found some of my well-sourced family names changed. I can see allowing additions, but how are others allowed to change or falsely 'correct' my entries? More than 50 years ago my grandmothers gave me names, dates, places and stories about their grandparents, people that they knew. I solidly documented this info with vital records, courthouse, cemetery and census records. It saddens me that this is what it comes down to. I see no improvement over the flawed IGI and Ancestral File of years past. Is picking through this ever-changing mess of merged people now going to be the only way to take our family names to the temple? I had similar disappointing results with One Great Family, but it didn't hinder my family's temple work.

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  6. (1) I think that NFS is a significant success in one respect: lowering the threshold for the average LDS person to start some involvement in FH, and also to bypass the ridiculously inefficient "temple ready" process. It even makes the processing of names for ordinances simpler for me, a full-time genealogist with 50 years' involvement, so I welcome the new system for several reasons. I have never seen the breadth of enthusiasm for FH among the general church populace as I see right now. I see that as "good."
    (2) The data in NFS comes from a multiplicity of sources that range from rock-solid to pure wishful fable and cannot be relied upon. However, I have have found it to be worth a look when searching for a new (to me) family as a starting point, as there is usually SOMETHING in all that mess that is close to being factual. It should (in my opinion) never be used as a source of information without verification from other sources, but often gives me a hint as to where I might look for reliable information.
    (3) No serious genealogist would ever consider using such a database as the (sole) repository for his information. Maintaining one's own database will always be important.
    (4) I use a 3rd party program (Ancestral Quest) to synchronize my database (usually just once) with NFS as I process the names for temple work. That cleans up the name once in NFS, but I realize that others will come along and mess it up again. That is just something that we shall have to accept, as I cannot monitor what is being done to 20,000 names in my family.
    (5) Most church members, if they get involved at all, will blithely accept whatever shows up on the screen in NFS, accept it as truth, and never give it another thought. That unforunately perpetuates and even in a perverse way solidifies myths and incorrect conclusions.
    (6) As a 2nd generation member, all of the people with whom I collaborate in research on my family are not LDS. They have sufficient (negative) experience with the member-submitted entries on the IGI that, realizing that NFS comes from many of the same unreliable sources, they are not waiting with baited breath for NFS to be opened up to non-LDS people.
    (7) NFS is what it is, and even with gradual evolution will remain so. I think that the church should maintain their focus on making sure that the most important purposes are achieved, and not to divert energy and resources toward an unrealistic goal to make it a true "research" site. The die was cast long ago, the site is filled with whatever happened to fall into it, and more of the same will continue to flow into the site with ever-increasing intensity and volume. It is absolutely impossible that it will ever be a pristine repository of reliable information.

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  7. Here's the text from an e-mail I sent to three folks at FamilySearch when forwarding your blog entry.
    ================

    This posting points to an ongoing issue where LDS Church requirements for submitted pedigrees (temple work) is so far below research standards generally accepted by the non-LDS genealogy community.

    Where once non-LDS learned to disregard the “Patron” entries in the IGI, now they will disregard nFS because of the poor research standards permitted by this venue.

    Other online venues such as Ancestry.com, Footnote.com, ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk, GenealogyBank.com provide even minimal source citation for their scanned images.

    In fact, in my view, Ancestry’s Trees are now more reliable a general resource than nFS because of the ability to upload scanned images, and attach images from the Ancestry.com files as proof documents for lineage arguments.

    Why is the Church advising the use of a sub-standard research system?

    I thought we were to teach correct principles, and allow people to govern themselves. This isn’t happening with nFS as it exists now.

    I have been prepping my non-LDS readers for the general release of nFS, but its present form, I cannot in good conscience recommend it.

    How I wish this email was more positive.

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  8. Myrt states the problem very clearly. There is already so much undocumented and incorrect garbage in NFS that I do not see that it will ever be possible for this to be a real "research" site. It does a pretty good job of reducing duplication of temple ordinances, but one would have to be delusional to think that much of the information there meets any acceptable genealogical standard.

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  9. AI, many thanks for your honest appraisal.

    I have followed your posts regarding nFS, and was working up some enthusiasm for some future release to the non-LDS genealogical community.

    The reason for this enthusiasm was the prospect of correcting some longstanding errors in a few of my family lines that have been promulgated through IGI and recycled jillions of times in CDs, trees, etc.

    Thanks to your outline, the practical experience of just-commenting and others, and Myrt's succinct pointers, I now see that this would be futile. The believers in the wrong stuff need not pay attention to evidence (they practically cannot get access to evidentiary items through nFS anyway) and can just "change it back."

    The elephant in the living room here is the backdrop purpose of the genealogical endeavors: Temple rites regarding families. I do not know what doctrinal or procedural issues are involved for unsealing incorrectly-linked persons and fixes for correct relationships.

    If this objective were primary, the Church would spare no resources to assure genealogical accuracy.

    As you point out, the fundamental problem with nFS is its foundation in badly researched (and non-researched) genealogies of the past, and the method of compiling IGI and the other genealogical files that were incorporated in nFS.

    Absent the evidentiary basis for sound genealogy, nFS cannot be an improvement over the mass of messes in the present state of databases now accessible at familysearch.org.

    This is just too bad, and my enthusiasm has completely dissipated.

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  10. I agree with Geolover, and my enthusiasm for the release of NFS to the non-LDS community is also lacking, but I am still very pleased and even a bit excited for what NFS DOES do.

    (1) It has generated a degree of interest among a large number of LDS people who have heretofore avoided all involvement with FH.
    (2) It really is quite effective in greatly reducing the duplication in submission of names for temple work that has already been completed.
    (3) It has simplified the name clearing process, and I now see many patron submitted name cards in the temple, where they used to be rather uncommon.
    (4) It has put many LDS members in touch with other family members who are doing FH work.
    (5) It has made it possible for members to actually see their pedigree and what has been submitted over the years without having to try to convince their aging aunt (who may be just a bit "funny" about that sort of thing) to share the fruits of her labors with all the copying costs.
    (6) Despite the huge volume of bad data, there are still clues that can help to direct us to the acurate information. Someone may have made a bad guess about Granny's birthdate, but at least they may know her name or that of a spouse.
    (7) It acknowledges that differing data may still be relevant as it applies to an individual. We must not forget that some of the incorrect data comes not from careless research, but from incorrect information in the original sources. There are countless people who age only 5 or 6 years in the 10 years between census enumerations, and also those who are illiterate may have their name spelled many different ways by different record keepers. NFS does allow all that data to be recognized as pertaining to one person.

    I think that we both individually, as well as collectively as a church need to take advantage of what it WILL do, while at the same time recognizing that the value of NFS as a research tool, or even a good repository for accurate information, is not a realistic hope in the foreseeable future.

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  11. I have discontinued trying to set the record strait and will let other, with perhaps more patience than I have, undertake that chore. It is enough for me to known that the temple work for my kindred dead has been accomplished.

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