Monday, June 7, 2010

Close, But No Cigar

FamilySearch Places Records Into Folders 
In the New FamilySearch tree, records
are combined into folders from which
summary values are selected. Image
courtesy: FamilySearch International.

See “Evidence Management” for an overview of this series and for links to other articles.

Vendor Support of Evidence Summaries

Each vendor has some features that tantalizingly approach evidence summaries.

The new FamilySearch Tree is close. Evidence summaries are placed into a folder for an individual from which users choose a conclusion (they call it a summary value). FamilySearch is the current technology leader. But then they preloaded evidence summaries with oodles of worthless, source-less, secondary informational, derivative sources: Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, and user-submissions to the International Genealogical Index. This, in turn, generated IOUSs, which in turn crashed their servers.  Further, they surfaced none of an evidence summary’s usefulness to users. Consequently, they see no advantage to their technology leadership.

FamilySearch has announced their intent to separate artifacts from individuals. This moves them in the right direction. But because their technological advance has given them nothing but problems, they will be tempted to abandon it entirely. Keep your fingers crossed.

Footnote is perhaps closest. They have created evidence summaries for individuals mentioned in collections such as the Social Security Death Index and the 1930 Census. They have created person pages that allow users to store conclusions. However, they have positioned the two kinds of pages as equivalent. Consequently, users are frustrated because there is no ability to combine the two.

Footnote should slap an “Evidence Summary” moniker on their evidence summary person pages. And they need the ability to attach an evidence summary to a user contributed person page in such a way that the person page inherits evidence from the evidence summary. Inheritance also allows users to inherit from other users’ person pages. This allows users to share their contributions without worry that other users will modify their pages.

Features Ancestry
Evidence summary stores abstracted evidence separately from conclusions No
Yes. The NFS tree documentation uses the terms record, folder, and summary to explain the evidence summary (green box), individual (blue box), and conclusion (purple box), respectively. All a person's records are placed (combined) into their folder and users choose a summary value when conflicts exist.
No for user contributions. No distinction is made between records and folders.
Yes-ish. Duplicate person pages come close, but there is no concept of an evidence summary person page versus a conclusion person page.
Evidence summary stores abstracted evidence separately from sources Yes-ish for provided sources. Yes for preloaded. Yes
Each piece of evidence in a summary is categorized by the assertion type (e.g. name, gender, age, birth date, birth place, marriage date, place, death date, place, burial date, place, and so forth) No Yes for preloaded. Yes
User can view and work with an entire evidence summary No Yes when combining or separating records. No
User can give descriptive name to an evidence summary No No No
Can generate a list of evidence summaries No No No
Can sort and filter lists by name, subject, source, evidence creation date, informant, evidentiary weight, etc. No No No
Evidence summary is linked to source (entry) No Yes for preloaded. Yes
User can characterize evidence as primary information or secondary information, supporting or conflicting, direct or indirect. No No
User can enter notes about a piece of evidence No No Yes-ish


  1. New FamilySearch has some great features and plans, but its original purpose was to reduce duplication of temple work. I am excited about the future plans of the project and I understand your concern about correct information and applaud it, but its original purpose is being realized in many ways already and for that we need to be very grateful.
    Charles E. Burgoyne

  2. Users can add notes if they add the evidence.

  3. I keep hoping with each new update of nFS that "they" have gotten around to dealing with many of these issues. If they prioritize their changes I often wonder who they think their audience is. Yes, we want to end duplication of temple work, but I'm not convinced that is happening. I still see records being added to nFS with 2010 dates where, when records are combined, the temple work was done many years ago and often by the person himself. I can easily beat the system if I so choose.

    I too am tired of going in and un-combining records to separate fathers from sons, for example, only to find the very next day that someone has re-combined the same records.

    I CAN add notes to records, begging people not to change the record and explaining why to no avail. NO ONE reads them. Currently there are two functions available to users that are being drastically under-utilized; the "notes" section and the "combined records" section. I am amazed how many people do not know that those options are there. They are too quick to dispute. Hopefully, with the next update to nFS we will see the collaboration/discussions tab implemented and disputes eliminated. However, many won't use it either.

    Until some kind of evidence management is put into place, discussions may help. But until then...

    Evidence management is the key to resolving issues, and providing an accurate record of our history. That day needs to come soon. We will lose all credibility with the genealogical community, and the world at large, if we don't get sourcing implemented quickly!

    Thanks, AI!

  4. As a non-Mormon I am strictly impartial on the temple-work aspect of nFS but I wonder whether Sue's concerns do not highlight a challenge to those of us who regard evidence management as important. That is - how far do we / can we / should we force it into any new software.
    It seems to me that if people can't even read notes and wilfully persist in such things as confusing father and son, then what are the chances of them being able to understand and honestly use the concepts of evidence management?
    nFS is free, because of its specific purpose in relation to your faith, to set down whatever standards of adherence to evidence management it likes - and needs.
    However, remembering that one original purpose of these posts was to interest designers of new software to be used by anyone, we can't force it down people's throats and still sell the product.
    I don't have an answer, I'm afraid, other than to reiterate that making such software easy to use, and GEDCOM compatible data easy to convert, will be as important to evidence management as conforming to evidence management processes themselves.

  5. Sue highlights problems likely to be endemic in 'wiki-wars' where:

    1) the fundamental database is based on the Widely Held (because endlessly copied in one way or another in sundry trees and published genealogies) Mistaken Beliefs uploaded from the fundamentally flawed databases listed by AI.

    2) arguments for genealogical statements are not visible right there where the statements are, but hidden in tabs where full evidentiary data may not be given, and users cannot delete the aforesaid WHMB or flag them as proven false (with direct link to evidence).

    Using the source databases described by AI, in this way, was an original problem with a cascade effect.

    These databases still show crucial genealogical mistakes in some of my lines that originated in non-researched publications from the 1930s, 1960s and 1980s. Many new genealogists believe that the assertions must be true if on an LDS site.


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