Friday, March 29, 2013

#RootsTech – Ron Tanner: Go Fish

Ron Tanner talks at RootsTech 2013Why are 1.2 million comedians out of work? Because FamilySearch Family Tree product manager, Ron Tanner, will do it for free. His presentations are always entertaining and informative.

“If genealogists played cards, what game would they play?” Tanner asked. “Genealogists play Go Fish.”

“Do you have any sources for John?”

“Go fish!”

“How about for Ann?”

“Do I have to give you all my sources about Ann?”

“Yes. It’s ‘Go Fish'.’”

-—- o -—-

“[FamilySearch] Family Tree is different than most trees,” said Tanner. “Family Tree is not a bunch of trees that you can search. Instead we put them all together into one, shared tree.” He said the purpose of Family Tree is to document accurately the genealogy of the world and preserve it someplace safe.

“Approximately 80% of all research done in genealogy is duplication,” he said. Family Tree prevents duplication of research.

Tanner walked through various features that are designed to make sharing and collaboration easier. There are mechanisms allowing researchers to communicate, to monitor changes in ancestors, to track changes and the users making them, and to restore deleterious changes. Family Tree asks users to explain their changes and facilitates use of sources.

Change notifications are currently sent once a week, but daily and maybe hourly are being considered.

I have problems with one limitation of Family Tree. Tanner said that alternate values for vital events are no longer allowed. He said a person can only be born once and “there are clear genealogical rules to determine which date to pick.” I disagree. No set of codified rules is above interpretation and no codified rules exist for genealogy. Back in PAF 1.0 days the injunction that always followed product deficiency was “stick it in the notes.” Will that be the recommendation this time around?

Meanwhile, back to Tanner’s presentation…

Records and images from FamilySearch historical records can be linked to individuals in the tree by placing the record in the Source Box, then taking it back out and attaching it to an individual. (I wish I could do it in one step. And I wish I could attach the source to a piece of evidence rather than the person.)

“Our URLs on FamilySearch will not go bad,” said Tanner. “That’s our promise.” (Have I talked about this before? I’m not certain FamilySearch has ever said this publicly before, so I may not have. I understand it applies only to URLs that have “pal” in them. It stands for persistent archival links. I find pals in URLs for records and images, but not other stuff.) 

Merging two people takes a lot of effort (to do correctly). This is intentional. (In New FamilySearch a misguided soul could combine people with a few mouse clicks. Undoing the damage took many times the effort. In Family Tree, designers have reversed that. They made it hard to inflict the damage, and easy—just a few mouse clicks—to undo it.)

FamilySearch is working on the ability to upload scanned images of source documents. (While you can upload scanned documents today as photographs, I’m told it is best to wait until they can be uploaded and linked to sources.) In speaking of the importance of photos and stories Tanner said that after four generations no one knows you. “You are just a name.” He showed an example obituary and photograph he entered to preserve the memory of a close loved one.

Tanner showed the new Fan Chart feature and indicated the goal is to have this out in the next month or so. Over the next couple of months they hope to add the ability to print real pedigree charts and family group records in PDF format.

“If we’re going to work together on a shared family tree, is there anything we’re going to have to do differently? The answer is ‘yes,’” said Tanner. “We need to stop playing Go Fish and play 52-card Share-em.”

“With all of us doing all the parts we can do, we can do amazing things,” he said. “We can build an amazing tree of human kind.”


  1. I decided to try out the new Family Search. Someone actually had a tree for my husband's mother's family. I realized immediately that somethings were very wrong such as putting North Adams, Massachusetts in Franklin County instead of Berkshire County. Also North Adams was part of Adams, Berkshire, Massachusetts and was only separately incorporated from Adams in 1878 so individuals born before 1878 were actually born in Adams. Making corrections was a huge hassle. I don't mind explaining a problem, it just wouldn't let you choose the correct answer to the problem even when the correct town, county and state came up in a little strip. I want no part of this tree even though I hate to leave it incorrect. I'll happily stay with It may be my newbie ignorance but I couldn't figure how to attach census and other records to a person to even prove the correct answers.

    1. Try

      It sounds like you were in the old system. (It was called New FamilySearch.)

      The new system is easy to use and find records to attach, and you can change the information that is incorrect. It will give you the opportunity to explain the reason for your change.

      I use my account as a working tree and add the information I find to

      Hope this helps you!

  2. I remain puzzled by your statement . . ."While you can upload scanned documents today as photographs, I’m told it is best to wait until they can be uploaded and linked to sources."

    I believe this needs to be qualified by understanding that this statement only applies to scanned documents that will be stored in a Family Search facility.

    The existing Add Source feature allows you to specify a url provided by any storage provider.

    I have been using MS Skydrive's free storage facility to store my scanned source documents in pdf format. SkyDrive has a feature for generating a unique url for any stored document. When used in the Source definition anyone viewing the source can click on the url producing the image in a browser window which gives the viewer the option to download a copy if required. There might well be advantages in the FamilySearch facility when it comes along . . . or disadvantages . . . but SkyDrive storage works exactly as I would wish it to work.

  3. I'm cautiously optimistic about's Family Tree. I found a tree I submitted to Ancestral File in the late 90s more or less intact. Some of the "improvements" by FamilySearch staff are puzzling. They extended my line by giving my ancestor an 120 year-old father that was easily fixed. In another case a granddaughter was re-assigned to her grandparents--probably because the father and grandfather shared the same name. These problems are relatively minor compared to sifting through the 15,000+ unsourced pedigrees for my immigrant ancestor on

    In the current version it looks like the pedigrees are only visible to someone who has a (free) account at FamilySearch. Someone would not find your family tree via a Google search.


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