Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ron Tanner: Lick from the Same Lollypop

Ron Tanner addresses the nervousness of my-tree-itus“We built exactly what you wanted,” said Ron Tanner about (nFS). “How are you liking it?” Audience members groaned. “You said you didn’t want anyone changing your stuff.” Users wanted their contributions to be safe so that others could not change their work. “You have my-tree-itus,” he said.

Ron Tanner is the product manager for nFS and the new Family Tree. He spoke at this year’s BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy on the topic, “Introducing FamilySearch Family Tree.”

Tanner showed a long list of birth facts for his ancestor, Henry Martin Tanner. “I ask you. How many times can you be born?!” Since the introduction of nFS users have experienced deep frustrations in the inability to fix even the most obvious of errors. Only the contributor of an opinion can fix it, but many times it is impossible to contact the contributor.

Elder J. Thomas Fyans, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1978 said,

It is apparent, then, that ours is a shared ancestry. We shouldn’t think back and say “mine, mine, mine”; we should say “ours, ours, ours.” The farther back we reach, the greater the chorus swells.

It has become apparent that genealogical research efforts are being duplicated. To determine the extent to which such duplication exists, I took my genealogical records to a professional research institute. They compared my records with their name pool and determined that they already had ninety-five percent of my records in their file. (Ensign, November 1978, 28.)

“We have to do something different,” said Tanner. “We have to work together.” The new Family Tree allows anyone to change anything. Tanner called it open edit. “We’ve got to lick from the same lollypop.”

The open edit system has:

  • sources - “Make sources king.”
  • reasons – users must explain each change made
  • discussions - “its a place to talk it out”
  • change log – can roll back bad changes
  • notifications – notified when someone makes a change

FamilySearch plans to add automatic detection of warring. If a value is toggled back and forth too often, the system will freeze it for two weeks. There will be a way to report abuse.

To compound the problems in nFS, FamilySearch filled it with bad data. ““I content that no human would do to a tree what we did,” said Tanner. FamilySearch took Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File (PRF), and the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and applied computer algorithms that combined and corrupted the data. “We did that.” FamilySearch plans to remove all the extra values on the details tab that came from Ancestral File, PRF, and the IGI. Only the summary values will remain (and all non-vitals).

Family Tree doesn’t use the combine system that was the hallmark of nFS. Family Tree returns to the more familiar merge operation. When you merge two people, you will have to choose one by one each fact. Then one of the people goes away. However, the merge can be undone. Merge is not available yet, but FamilySearch is working on it now.

Until nFS is retired, changes made to either nFS or Family Tree are copied to the other. The two different architectures makes the copy problematic. “New FamilySearch must be turned off as soon as possible,” said Tanner.

“Family Tree is to be the world’s genealogy.”


  1. It's about time, implementation cannot come fast enough. Now comes the problem of convincing grandma, who researched on a wing and a prayer, that her precious lace trimmed notebook of family group sheets contain many errors and the missing sources are necessary. And, talk about a corrupt database, all those uploaded GEDCOMs with 200,000 folks going back to Moses.....

  2. I'm ready. Where do I sign up? I've never posted to Family Search or new Family Search and I'm not a Mormon. Can I begin now or do I need to wait for something to be fixed or worked on?

  3. Janie - I also got interested. So far it's been a shambles. Sorry - I usually have sympathy for IT projects because I used to work in IT. But I've run out of the milk of human kindness on this one.

    When I first tried to log on (having gone through the sign-on process) I got immediate looping between the empty tree and an "empty" screen (empty apart from menu bars). Their investigation showed this was because I (and lots of others) have a space in our Display Name (why is this unusual? Don't people _usually_ have names with 2 parts?).

    They fixed that. I never got to see any data after the fix because of a database failure. Now it's back to cycling between the empty tree and an "empty" screen.

    I want this to work, I really do. I even like the new FamilySearch search facilities, honest I do! But this!!!


  4. I've really enjoyed playing around with Family Tree. I had to take a deep breath at the beginning and convince myself to learn yet another program, but once I took the plunge and started working with it I found it was definitely worth it. Can't wait until I can do everything on Family Tree instead of going back and forth between that and NFS as I am right now.


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