Friday, February 1, 2013

FamilySearch Values Sources?

Genealogy without sources is mythologyI mentioned Monday that FamilySearch has a dubious past when it comes to sources. Fortunately, FamilySearch’s current product managers get it.

  • One major design goal of Family Tree is source-centricity.
  • Citations have been added to records.
  • Source Box has been added to Family Tree.
  • Family Tree sources can be linked to records.

I’m an incrementalist, so I’m happy with this constant stream of improvements. Kudos to FamilySearch.

It has not always been so. Consider FamilySearch’s historical disregard for sources:

  • Early Family group sheets: had no space for citations.
  • Four generation program: family group sheets had miniscule space for citations.
  • Individual and marriage entry forms: The source information listed on these forms was discarded when these forms were keyed into the Community Contributed IGI.
  • The Parish and Vital Records List (PVRL): published on fiche, listed all the sources in the Community Indexed IGI. This information has been discarded.
  • Early PAF: contained no structured citation support. Citations had to be typed into the notes.
  • GEDCOM: doesn’t support transfer of structured citations without loss. (Maybe Randy Seaver can leave a comment with a link to the tests he ran.) Even though most of today’s family tree products support citations for dozens of source types, FamilySearch has gone years without adding support to the GEDCOM standard.
  • Ancestral File: source information was discarded from patron submissions.
  • TempleReady: no longer required sources for temple submissions. Worse, any source information present was discarded.
  • Record collections: are published without coverage information. Records from multiple archives are stuck together into single collections and the source citations don’t identify the archives that particular records come from. Volume names are no where to be found. Images are displayed on screen and saved to disk without citations. Records are copied to the clipboard without citations. (Fortunately, enough information is given to get back to the online record.) Images are printed without citations. (Fortunately, enough information is given to get back to the online images, though not the offline originals.)
  • new FamilySearch Tree (NFS): source lists do not use standard citation formats. If you’ve ever viewed an NFS source list report you can see the illegible consequences. Family Tree doesn’t support source list reports at all.
  • NFS and Family Tree: do not require sources, even though the tree is intended for collaboration. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, NFS and Family Tree do not cite sources for information about temple work, presenting this all-important information without proof.
  • Family Tree: doesn’t have the structured citation entry that desktop programs have.

And Suzanne’s complaint from Monday’s mailbox:

  • NFS and Family Tree: do not support the transfer of sources to and from desktop programs.

Much still needs to be done. Some of these past mistakes will take years to overcome. Some are uncorrectable. Here’s hoping FamilySearch will never revert to its historical behavior because “genealogy without sources is mythology.”1

1 It is more than a little ironic that I don’t know the source for that quote.


  1. But the transition is painful. Now I'm finding people being merged, especially cousins often from different generations! Then the wrongly merged individual (who is now pure fiction) pops up as a suggested merge when I've just corrected other errors.

  2. Tamura Jones has an article about this phrase and some research on previous uses of it



  3. I Googled “world population vital records” and came across an interesting chart on page 3 of: (inadequate source - - right?) The chart indicates that 70 (100-30) percent of the countries in the world have inadequate or no birth records. Americas 47 percent, Africa 95 percent, and in South-East Asia 99 percent of the countries have inadequate or no birth records.

    Should we stop attempting to build a one-world tree where so many of the branches will, by some, be considered “Mythology”? Obviously the answer is a resounding “No”. Will accredited genealogists need to get used to seeing a high percentage of the branches in the tree unsourced? They will have to answer that for themselves.

    Perhaps we need to consider replacing the statement, “Genealogy without sources is Mythology” with a statement such as “Genealogy without sources is 100 percent better than No Genealogy”. At least there will be a tree where the tree decorators can come along and hang on a source ornament (if one exists).

  4. I imagine that chart refers to formal records. From this side of the Atlantic, the USA can be considered to have "inadequate or no birth records" for much of its history. Yet people manage to produce well-researched trees of people living in such out of the way places as pre-1906 San Francisco.

    Re your question "Should we stop attempting to build a one-world tree where so many of the branches will, by some, be considered 'Mythology'?" If there is no evidence of any sort that the tree is anything more than a work of fiction - then yes, we should *not* fantasise and impose our fictions on these people (Native American Princesses anyone?). If there is evidence of a different sort - such as family trees maintained through oral tradition - then those sources should be referenced and *then* people can decide for themselves whether oral histories are good enough.

    To this (non-accredited) genealogist, the statement that "Genealogy without sources is 100 percent better than No Genealogy" is both mathematical nonsense (an extra 100% of nothing is still nothing) and seems to attempt to imply that sources are mere ornaments that are no more than nice-to-have. Not so. If you believe something to be true - tell us why.... That's all we ask.

    1. Absolutely agree with Bruce about Mythology, the "one world tree" concept and fiction.

    2. Genealogy without sources, formal or family or otherwise, is not genealogy but just a tale.

  5. One (or more) of Family Search/New Family Search/Family Tree's problems is that it started out with a legacy of "granny trees"; unsourced, poorly sourced,loaded with family lore and "geneatheology"-trees tracing family lines back to Adam. New Family Search came into being and all of a sudden people were uploading trees containing 60,000 largely unsourced individuals and/or family group sheets containing nothing but a name. And then they told people to merge with what they knew were inaccurate entries to prevent duplication. This has changed, but not necessarily in the right direction.
    Somewhere along the line the fact that Mormon genealogy has traditionally been about quantity, not quality and it was done for a reason separate from creating a true and accurate history of their family, however important that motive may be was lost. In my opinion, submitting unsourced and possibly fictional ancestors for posthumous Temple Ordinances isn't acceptable either.
    Hopefully, over time, as the current generation of Mormon genealogists learn the importance of not only sourcing, but proper sourcing, what goes into Family Tree and New Family Source will improve, but, really, neither telling people to merge even if they know they are merging the real with the fantasy, the right into the wrong, or allowing anybody to change anybody else's work is the proper way to do this.

  6. I read with interest your take on Family Tree and a lack of sources. You hit the nail right on the head. However you missed a very important fact. When a non member signs into Family Tree they see one window that caters to non members only. If your a member of the church and you sign in you see another side or different window. What non members don't see are the ordinances. A church member can go in and perform ordinances on a non members family and that non member will never see that fact. So in reality we have a situation where non members are being treated differently. It was done to my family and only because I have a member of the church check on my family did we notice the ordinances. To this day those ordinances have not been removed. And I still don't see them because I am a non member of the church. As I have said in the past Family Tree in it's current version is broke. I suggest that people stop entering date on their family until all the dust has settle and the people in SLC decide what they want to do next.
    I have seen what "allowing anybody to change anybody else's work" accomplishes. It just works havoc on the whole system. People are so used to not entering sources that if anybody looks like one of their relatives they just link to it. I have stopped entering my family tree and will wait about 5 years before I ever think of correcting my entries. I use other sites to post my data and I am confident that nobody can corrupt my data. On FamilyTree one is never sure. I think everybody should have their own tree and nobody can enter into it and alter any data without the submitters permission. Right now it's Chaos.

  7. Most contents of the predominantly wrong material that was uploaded to new.FamilySearch had "sources" although any citations or references to them were removed. Having a "source" is not the problem. Jillions of published sources (whether hard-copy or electronic) consist in baseless assertions or outright fraud. Lacking evidence is the key.

    LDS members can still upload GEDCOM files directly to n.FS with no filtering for sense or duplication, thus adding more, er, material to a system that can not handle source-citations, to be migrated into FS-Family Tree. LDS members can continue to combine "records" in n.FS using 3rd-party software. The announcement that changes in n.FS were halted, a couple of months ago, is only accurate to the extent that the user has not purchased that software. It appears that system managers are unwilling or unable actually to block these activities.

    While the wiki-wars have barely begun in FS-FT, what incentive does an able genealogical researcher have to attempt corrections?

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  9. The ability to attach source images is what has the potential to allow Family Tree to reach the lofty goal Family Search has for it. My biggest frustration with New Family Search has been, for example, looking at the record of an great-great-grandfather who has over a hundred correctly merged records with ten marriage dates spread over 5 years, none of which has a source and knowing that even if I spent the time to figure out which date was correct then put that one in with a source, all the other dates would still be there and my source would be buried among those pages and pages of incomprehensible source lists that no one ever looks at.

    Now I have a motive for finding the real date. I can remove all the erroneous dates, have just the correct one listed, and right there in plain site directly under the date, I can attach not just a citation but the actual record for all to see.

    I would agree that “genealogy without documentation is mythology,” but would go farther and say “genealogy without the documents is worthless.” A source citation is not enough. A source citation to a reference that no one else can ever see is no better than fiction.

    I don’t care who you are or what your credentials are. I don’t care how many hours of research you have put in. I don’t care how strongly you trust your information. If you put in a marriage date of 15 April 1875 with no explanation, or cite a document only you have access to, or claim 50 Ancestry trees as your source, or reference an out of print book buried in the depths of one library and I have in my hand a marriage certificate filled out on the day of the wedding that says 20 April 1874, I am going to correct your entry and attach a scan of the document.

    So far, I have attached about 900 source documents to my ancestors and their families in Family Tree. Many are internal links to source images on Family Search such as scans of census pages and death certificates. About 120 are documents that I have scanned, uploaded to my Dropbox account, then entered the Dropbox document public URL in the Family Tree source citation. This is working very well and has given me the motivation to clean up the records for the portion of Family Tree to which I am connected.


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