Monday, September 6, 2010

Mailbox Monday: Future of the NFS Tree

Tree on the Peter Whitmer Farm
Future of the NFS Tree
Credit: Ancestry Insider, July 2008
Tree on the Peter Whitmer Farm

Dear Ancestry Insider,

THANKS for this great informative post. A real service to the genealogical research community. (And why should FHD hire someone to write this kind of news releases, when you do such a fine job?) I'm a retired copyeditor so I feel qualified to say that.

One question: "Someone" wrote a few weeks ago that nFS will be rolled out to "everyone" gradually by temple districts, as it was for LDS members. Reading your post carefully, I don't see any indication of that. Can you clarify?

Thanks again. Cheers,
Dolly in Maryland
(non-member, a FHC volunteer for 39 years & counting)

Dear Dolly,

First, let me send a capital THANKS right back at you. Our family history centers (FHCs) could not function without wonderful volunteers such as you. FamilySearch and all our patrons are indebted to our wonderful community volunteers.

I spoke with a member of the new FamilySearch (NFS) Tree hardware team the other morning about the rollout. His team is looking forward to it with great excitement and trepidation. FamilySearch really has no way to know exactly how much the general public will load the system.

That is why the Tree must be rolled out gradually. Rather than temple district, the rollout will probably start with a few, select invitations. Ron Tanner didn’t comment on the rollout method at the Family History Expo, but I seem to someone saying publicly that that would begin this year with just a few targeted invitations. After that, I’m guessing that FamilySearch will do something along the lines of Google’s rollout of Gmail.

As the capacity of Gmail increased, Google gave some existing users a few invitations that could be given to friends. If Gmail remained stable with the additional users, more invitations were distributed among current users. In this way Google had great control of the speed of the rollout. That is something that FamilySearch needs as well.

Does anybody remember better than I how that whole Gmail rollout worked?

Thanks for writing,

-- The Insider

P.S. I assume you already have your own account with access to the NFS Tree. As a 39 year, current FHC volunteer, you qualify for current access.

Fixing the Tree

[I created the following letter by combining and liberally edited two letters (here and here). Consequently, it may no longer reflect the views and opinions of the original author. Sorry about that.]

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Occasionally I check the old FamilySearch site for certain ancestors. For one search I did today there are 7 IGI entries, 1 Ancestral File entry, and 2 Pedigree Resource File entries. The 10 entries contain liberal numbers of errors.

I am confident (abstractly, not having access to nFS Tree) that there are several copies of the target person in the Tree, probably all with wrong spouse, wrong parents, wrong marriage place, wrong place of death. Hence merging (which I do understand) will diminish server load but probably not increase truthiness.

My point is that the source materials for the nFS Tree are derivative, secondary, and lacking citations; these sources do not give much guidance for accuracy.

I am glad that the correction-of-conclusion process is heading in a more streamlined and rational direction. The elephant in the living room is that countless numbers of religious rites have been performed based on erroneous genealogical assertions. Surely the submitters have an emotional attachment to their mistaken submissions, this over and above the sheer weight of error-riddled trees on the web and their mistaken sources.

I hope a robust correction process will be able to prevent the 'wiki-war' phenomenon.

Pseudo-G. L.


Dear Pseudo-G. L.,

Today, one cleans up multiple copies of a person by combining them all together in a mishmash that preserves each and every single assertion from each and every single source. In your example, the resulting person would have ten copies of the name, even if some were identical. Every birth date from all ten sources would be present. Likewise for the other facts. The person could theoretically have 10 different mothers and 10 different fathers. The person could have ten times the number of children they actually had—or more if some of the 10 sources had too many children.

Fortunately, today a contributor can correct information they contribute. Unfortunately, the contributors of most of the IGI, Ancestral File, and Pedigree Resource Files are unknown or have yet to claim their contributions. And unfortunately, only the contributor can correct or remove erroneous information. Fortunately, one can dispute it. Unfortunately, once disputed, even the contributor can not fix it.

In the NFS of tomorrow, sources (such as the IGI, AF, and PRF) are extracted and exist independently. Anyone can “fix” any problem in the tree.

Keep in mind that in "our tree," "fixed" is determined by the community. It happens like this: You or I applies "your fix" or "my fix." If no one objects, it becomes "our fix." If someone objects, they undo the change and engages the fixer in a discussion. When consensus is reached, you apply "our fix."

Once a discussion is underway, it is bad form to apply or re-apply "your fix." Doing so can result in temporary suspension.

When consensus can not be reached, the decision goes to an arbitrator who decides "our fix." I worry that FamilySearch product managers are operating under the assumption that in any disagreement, genealogical practice and standards dictate a clear, best decision. I believe in many situations even the best genealogists can disagree. I believe it will be necessary to allow contributors to appeal an arbitrator’s decision to a panel of arbitrators.

You are quite right that a robust correction process, arbitration as it is called, is the only thing that stands between success and anarchy. FamilySearch owns the first task: create an arbitration process that works. We, the community, own the second task. Able genealogists must step forward and donate time as arbitrators. That will determine whether the Tree becomes the greatest genealogical tool ever created or the greatest genealogical failure.


-- The Insider


Dear friends,

Please have a wonderful holiday! As you labor on your genealogy today, try not to slow the Internet down too much while I’m laboring on my genealogy. :-)

-- The Insider


  1. I'm a 5-year FHC volunteer, and I've been told that FHC volunteers don't qualify for access to NFS, nor will they qualify for premiium access to digitized online films unless they volunteer for indexing. Thanks for asking.

  2. AI, thank you for elaboration about the present nFS Tree concept of "merging" individuals.

    This is not "merging" as performed in desktop genealogical programs and in one brand of on-web tree software. In these, the "conclusion" is one name, one set of parents (with link to adoptive parents if any), linkage to however many actual individual spouses, and linkage to however many actual known children.

    What you describe is adding all the items from existing entries into one entry, including howevermany times the person's name (and versions) occur, howevermany sets of children went with each occurrence of the name, etc. This is not merging the facts relevant to the individual into one individual entry. This is adding all the entries into one entity that I will call a file, but perhaps its proper name presently is "conclusion."

    Since the IGI includes extracts from books, many of whose authors are long dead, I wonder what thinking went into the concept that only "the submitter" could alter an entry.

    While the present version of IGI, unlike the old microfiche version (which included the film and batch numbers by which one could eventually identify a submitter of, say, a family group sheet) has stripped away a method to identify most submitters, that information does exist. But not in the on-line version of IGI.

    Of course many post-1991 submissions were simply copied from the family group sheets and extracted genealogical material in earlier versions of IGI, which rather muddles the concept of "submitter."

    Even less scrutable is the material in IGI that was extracted from actual records (however accurately). I am aware of at least a few groups of church records that were partially extracted (omitting identification of baptismal sponsors, which always assists in identifying family groups), concerning families with whom I am familiar. It appears that each baptismal record would 'create' a new set of parents, as would any Family Group Sheet based on the same records.

    Making workable sense of this is an unenviable task.

  3. I am a 4 year (non church member) FHC volunteer. I have been told I AM eligible for access to NFS. I have been told I am NOT eligible for access to NFS. I have been told I can't register YET for NFS. I have been told I should have registered a long time ago for NFS and now it is too late. Everyone speaks with authority and KNOWS theirs is the RIGHT answer to my query.

    All I know is I spend about 60 hours a week being a GenWeb volunteer plus 8-10 hours a week as a FHC volunteer. The only real reason I even want access to NFS is to help our FHC users. If I have to index records in order to get access to NFS, I will have to STOP being a FHC volunteer in order to find the waking hours to get it done.

    FamilySearch needs to set a policy and then share it with their folks who answer the phone. There are enough of us non-members out here volunteering, that the policy and procedures should also be shared with FHC directors.

  4. Dear Suzie,

    Help Center Document ID 109601
    LDS Account and FamilySearch Account Problems

    "We are no longer creating volunteer accounts until the Public release of new FamilySearch. Volunteers can still help, but need to help patrons using the patron's account."

    You will NOT need to index in order to access the new FamilySearch Tree. Access to some historical record collections (now on RecordSearch or Beta) will require some sort of volunteer service. I don't know if family history center service will qualify or not. FamilySearch has to abide by the contracts it makes with record custodians for permission to photograph and digitize their records. I know managers inside FamilySearch are pushing to reward all types of service to whatever extent the contracts allow.

    As to the many different answers you've received: It appears help center documents on this issue were updated about 3 weeks ago. Hopefully since that time callers are getting consistent answers. Help line volunteers are trained to rely on these documents for answers, but don't always notice recent changes.

    I think document 100122 may still be a source of miscommunication:

    "How do community members register as volunteers for the new FamilySearch? ... Many family history centers have community volunteers who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These volunteers have been allowed to use the new FamilySearch Web site so that they can help the center’s patrons."

    The article goes on to explain how those that previously had accounts can update their accounts for the new login system. But the article never answers the opening question.

    Worse still is the Asia rollout website. The old policy is still stated at . "In family history centers staffed with volunteers who are not members of the Church, a process has been developed to register them on the new FamilySearch." The page goes on to give the old instructions.

    Hopefully, the right people at FamilySearch will read this and get these problems corrected.

    -- The Insider

  5. I'm with Suzie:
    "If I have to index records in order to get access to NFS, I will have to STOP being a FHC volunteer in order to find the waking hours to get it done." Hopefully the powers that be in SLC will understand this when they create their policy about access to digitized records.

    I also appreciate Geolover's comments about the extracted records in the IGI. I really have no use for one more online kludged-together family tree of questionable reliability. Where in all of this will the extracted IGI records land? How will we be able to easily identify and locate them?


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