Monday, January 4, 2010

A Bright Future for New FamilySearch Tree

A new day is dawning for New FamilySearch Last Monday’s article brought out a lot of great comments about New FamilySearch (NFS), the universal tree database under development by FamilySearch. Thank you, all!

I, for one, am very optimistic about New FamilySearch’s future and I’ll tell you a couple of reasons why.

Incremental Development

Many of you are accustomed to the old way of developing software. It is called “waterfall development.” For-profit companies made one release a year and non-profit companies like FamilySearch made one release every three to five years.

Now, companies like FamilySearch and use a new approach to software development that is “incremental.”, a for-profit company, makes a new release to their web software once a week. As we’ve seen for several years now, FamilySearch makes a new release to their web software once every quarter. Incremental development allows an organization to get feedback about their software and make course corrections more often. I have a lot of respect for planners like Ron Tanner and Dan Lawyer and many other knowledgeable individuals working for FamilySearch. I believe it is only a matter of time before NFS evolves into something better.

Collaborative Requirements

The other reason I’m optimistic about the future of New FamilySearch has to do with its collaborative environment. Here’s my thinking:

New FamilySearch is collaborative.
Because it is collaborative, conflicting opinions will occur. When Wikipedia users toggle a fact back and forth, it is called an “edit war.” FamilySearch employees have said that corresponding “pedigree wars” occurred in corrections to FamilySearch Ancestral File.
Because pedigree wars will occur, FamilySearch will be forced to turn to the genealogy field’s knowledge of how to best judge conflicting genealogical evidence. Part of Wikipedia’s solution to edit wars was the creation of volunteer arbitrators empowered to pass judgment in edit wars.
Because judging conflicting genealogical evidence requires extensive historical knowledge specific to the people, time, place, and records, those who have the time and inclination to receive the necessary training will make the best arbitrators.
As a result, the genealogical community will achieve its objective of evidence-based conclusions and FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will achieve its objective of making family history easier for all its members without burdening all members with time-consuming, specialized training.


So I have no doubt that New FamilySearch will incrementally become an ever more valuable tool for both the Church’s members and for the world’s genealogists. My only doubt lies in my ability to handle the frustrating void between what New FamilySearch is and what it will become.

Stay tuned…


  1. I agree with your two reasons for being optismistic about nFS. I am reminded of the invention of the typewriter, what it was like in the beginning and how it evolved to the keyboarding effeciencies we have today. When the typewriter first came out, there were many people who would not use it, called it useless. As time went on, it became a tool no office or home would do without. And we are talking about long periods of time producing change compared to how quickly things change today. I realize we are working with the dinosaur of a future familysearch that will be a powerful tool as easy to use as the keyboard is today. We just need to be patient and watch the evolution occur.

  2. I am excited about the progress that New FamilySearch has made in the last 2 years. My wife and I have had a number of contacts with other users through the collaboration capabilities of the system. They have all been positive. I am glad to hear that someone has a handle on those who are unwilling to cooperate. My big concern is that the purists, perfectionists or whatever you want to call them, will forget that we are trying to provide temple work for the world and that there will be errors and mistakes. Some corrections are needed, others only satisfy large egos. We must learn to work together to accomplish this great work. Patience is a virtue.

  3. The move to a wikipedia type collaboration is a long-needed move. The development of arbitrators could lead to the next big step in developing accurate lineages. That step could initially be the ranking of sources. can list numerous registered genealogies, all copied from the same source, or not sourced at all. Simply copying the copying of others devalues the whole effort. Arbitrators could work to develop a consensus as to best sources of a given locality and time period. Beyond that, basic rules of evidence can be brought to bear on conflicting claims. Rules of evidence can eventually be derived from, say, the legal profession, and developed into a larger theory of lineage linking.

  4. AI, you stated, "FamilySearch will be forced to turn to the genealogy field’s knowledge of how to best judge conflicting genealogical evidence."

    Unfortunately the vast majority of data in IGI and the AncestralFiles (most derived from IGI) is from books, newsletters (or queries therein) and submitted family group sheets. Few of these give any source whatever, much less 'evidence'. Sometimes one who has done the necessary evidentiary research can reconstruct how one or another conclusion was reached. More often than not, however, it's the old "same name = same person" and "same surname = same family" syndrome.

    Yes, a lot of the unsourced original Family Group Sheets were purged from IGI ca. 1991. However, that did not stop subsequent submitters from re-submitting the same material as lifted from sundry trees elsewhere as well as acquired by email and other means (including the original error-packed source publications that abound in libraries including FHL).

    Those who have adopted belief that "what was published by XY is true" need not have any concern at all about evidence, and the switchbacks need not be related to any evidentiary issue at all.

    If there were a way within NFS to present the actual evidence with proper citation so that it can be found by others, there would be no need to 'train' monitors / arbitrators regarding specific bodies of evidence.

  5. I hope that you are correct about the ability to reach the goal of reliable information in the future. The "frustrating void" to which you refer in your closing statement is indeed an enormous one that will not be quickly resolved. However, I think that it is worth the effort. When I add documented information to NFS and/or dispute something that is there, I always write an explanation with sources in the notes, in the hope of heading off a "pedigree war." I know that sometimes an ego will preclude a willingness to accept something new, but I have faith in the basic integrity and goodness of most people. Most of the bad data comes from lack of information. Those people are likely to accept the correct data. Other junk comes from laziness, and they proably will not have the inclination to expend the effort to fight over the data.

  6. The main difference with wikipedia though is that it's so easy to edit there. It's not so easy to fix problems and mistakes in nFS. I've heard stories of those who have spent hours fixing a problem (2-3 people combined into 1) only to have someone come in later and recombine them all. After you do that a few times it gets a little old and people won't keep spending that time. However, I like you am very hopeful that they will eventually find solutions to these problems.


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