Friday, August 2, 2013

A Whirlwind Tour of FamilySearch Resources

At the 2013 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy, Ben Baker of FamilySearch presented a session titled “A Whirlwind Tour of FamilySearch Resources.” Ben is a senior software engineer at FamilySearch. He has been on teams producing Family Tree features and processing digital images of historical documents. He has worked a lot on merge.

I’ve already written about a lot of; I won’t repeat it all here. Here are some items that were new to me or might be new to you:

  • New FamilySearch is going away. FamilySearch would like to get it turned off as soon as possible.
  • “Deleting a person is usually a bad idea unless you feel like they are a completely fictitious person,” said Baker. I can second that. If there are two copies of a person, merge them rather than deleting one.
  • There is no way to merge sources.
  • Baker was asked how to edit a source for reuse; a marriage record might name six people and shouldn’t it be possible to adapt a source for reuse? There is no way to do this.

It was apparent from this question that people don’t understand that the results of FamilySearch’s Record Search is not records. It is people. Take this “marriage record,” for example:

Alson E Abernathy in "Vermont, Vital Records, 1760-1954"

This record mentions four people. Should you save this record to your source box and attach it to all four? No. Notice the title. What we are actually looking at is the Alson E Abernathy detail page. This page should be linked only to Alson. The URL of this page is Remember that for a moment.

Note that father, mother, and spouse are hyperlinks. Click on any one to see their detail page. Here is the detail page for Milo:


Same record. Different person. Different title. Different URL ( Attach Alson’s detail page to Alson in Family Tree and attach Milo’s detail page to Milo in Family Tree.

(Some of you are now wishing to interrupt to tell me about the new “Attach to Family Tree” feature. I’m saving that subject for a different article.)

  • In Family Tree, click on a person’s name and Family Tree displays a person card. On the card, click on Tree or Person to see pedigree or person page.
  • has training information for Family Tree. The screen-shots are outdated, but the information is pretty much still current. You can find a Family Tree manual there as well as other learning resources. (I sure wish there was a manual for Photos and Stories. I’m still really confused by those features.)
  • Leland Moon has produced some Family Tree training lessons. Many have been placed in the FamilySearch Learning Center under the title “Family Tree Curriculum.” A few are still available on his original website,
  • On the People page of Photos, a little orange banner marks photos contributed by others. Baker had a term for that was defined as the first four generations of ancestors, their siblings, and all the spouses. I can’t remember what it was. “Circle of interest” maybe? Anyway, I think the People page shows all the photographs of your circle of interest.
  • Photos can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest and can be seen by people without logging in and without a FamilySearch account. (For an example, see this photo page.)
  • Groups of your photos can be organized into albums. (See this album.) Albums can be shared just like photographs.
  • Click Photos and then Find. You can then search for a photo by names and words that appear in the title or description.
  • The last time he heard, there had been about 700,000 photographs uploaded. This is a small sliver compared to the images FamilySearch has in its historical record collections. The last he heard, FamilySearch had 5 or 6 petabytes of images there.
  • Indexing historical records is way slow. FamilySearch Indexing is nowhere near keeping up with the publication of new historical record collections. Many record collections can be searched only by browsing images.
  • Uploading a GEDCOM is no longer a bad thing. It does not automatically cause duplication in Family Tree. Click on Search, then Genealogies. Scroll to the bottom. Click on Submit Tree. The GEDCOM becomes part of Pedigree Resource File and is kept separate from Family Tree. Optionally, it can be compared to Family Tree and select individuals added to it.
  • The catalogs of several FamilySearch centers (family history centers) have been uploaded into the FamilySearch Catalog (family history library catalog). You can search the holdings of all the centers or just one.
  • As of last week the number of Family History books exceeded 100,000 (according to a class member).
  • “GetSatisfaction” is a feedback website that is read by many FamilySearch decision makers. Post your opinions, complaints, and suggestions there for them to see. To get to GetSatisfaction, use the Feedback link at the bottom of every page. Or go directly to


  1. "Baker was asked how to edit a source for reuse; a marriage record might name six people and shouldn’t it be possible to adapt a source for reuse? There is no way to do this."

    I really wish I hadn't read this. Until now I could convince myself that I was missing something. Now I'm afraid I'm convinced that it's FamilySearch who are missing something. The process to link sources to people in Family Tree is already tortuous enough with needing to go via a Source Box. To have to repeat the process for each person mentioned in the record is absurd.

    FS seems to have discarded the concept of a "record of a source" in favour of "reference to a person in a source". That's absurd. It rejects standard academic practice for no good reason.

    Quite possibly, the only reason you know that it's the right source is because of the grouping of the people as a whole. You've worked with the source as a whole, so why can't you describe it as a whole? To dismantle it, destroys the evidence.

    OK - in your example you can hyperlink to each of the other 3 people - but this presumably means you have to input the "Why are you linking this record?" four times instead of once. But what's worse is that hyperlinking isn't even available in all cases. The "Scotland Census, 1891" doesn't provide any link to other household members, so I have to repeat the search from the beginning. So far as I can see, few of the British censuses provide hyperlinks to other household members, so description of the record as a whole would have been helpful.

    I think you said it all when you said that "It was apparent from this question that people don’t understand that the results of FamilySearch’s Record Search is not records. It is people." If a Record Search doesn't return Records, what the heck is going on? No wonder people are confused!

    Adrian B

  2. While Mr. Baker is correct in a technical sense with his answer to the question: "shouldn’t it be possible to adapt a source for reuse? There is no way to do this." You can easily click on the source in your source box, then click on 'copy' which will give you a copy that can be edited. You can change the heading or any of the boxes to whatever is correct for the person to whom you intend to attach the source.

  3. Thank you Ancestry Insider for your coverage of my presentation. I'm glad you learned some new things from it. I know I did as I prepared for the presentation. For anyone who's interested, I published both my presentation and the accompanying list of all of the URL links for the pages I showed on SlideShare. You can view them without an account, but if you want to download them, you need a free SlideShare account. The links are:

    Anyhow, it's obvious that I didn't do a very good job of explaining attaching sources to each person in records when asked a question during the presentation. Thank you Ancestry Insider for doing a good job of explaining how to attach sources to multiple people in a record. He is correct that you are really linking a specific person in the tree to a specific person in a record. Just editing the heading will not accomplish the same thing. While I agree it can currently be tedious, the power that this will soon bring is great. For example, we'll be able to point out when a person in a record is not in the tree yet (i.e. everyone in the family is there except for one child that was missed before). Record hints for people in a record not yet linked will also soon be available. This way of linking will also provide the ability to create features such as "show me all of the John Does in Place XYZ that are not already linked to someone in the tree" and a host of other new features (including many yet un-imagined) that will greatly aid people in finding their families. Anyhow, I'm really not the expert on this, but also wish it was more obvious in the tools we presented how to do this correctly. I know some alternate UIs are being explored to do this and the new "Attach to Family Tree" feature also makes it easier to add links for all of the people in a record.

    I hope this helps,
    Ben Baker


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