Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Does Your Tree Software Care?

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

When you commented parenthetically, "Let’s see how your tree program likes a marriage date after a death date! Or maybe you use one of those programs that doesn’t care, no matter how bad your data is," I immediately thought, "Yes, like FamilySearch Family Tree, which accepts all dates no matter how ridiculous." Just to make sure I wasn't falsely accusing FSFT of such practice, I logged on, found a relative with no marriage date entered and entered a date after the death of the wife. It accepted it, no questions asked.

This has always bugged me. I am not a professional programmer, but I do have some experience writing programs that my chemistry students used. It was easy to program checks for impossible answers that notified the student of the problem. I suspect it would be just as easy for FamilySearch software engineers to do the same for the Family Tree software. Why don't they do it? Do you have any idea?

It really gnarls me that FamilySearch Family Tree is one of "those programs that doesn't care". Oh, and in case you are wondering, I deleted the false marriage date after seeing it was accepted uncritically.


Dear John,

FamilySearch flags a bunch of, what I call, pedigree analysis errors. In the FamilySearch help system, see “Fixing Data Problems in Family Tree.” It says it checks for death year before marriage. I tried the same experiment on the FamilySearch Beta tree that you tried in the real tree. I got the same result. I checked the tree view and found that it does report the error after the fact: “Death Year before Marriage.”

FamilySearch detects a number of pedigree analysis errors.

Bottom line: FamilySearch does not check for errors while you enter information. It does not report the errors in person view. It does report the errors in pedigree view.

Doing this experiment I discovered two other bugs, or perhaps “design flaws.”

The Change Log is advertised as a place to undo erroneous changes. When I entered the bad death date, I subsequently went to the Change Log to undo the change. However, there was no undo button, just the word “Current” (as shown at #1 in the screen capture, below). You must wade through perhaps thousands of changes until you find the second to last time the value was changed. There you will find a “Restore” button (#2, below). What if the value had never, ever, been changed before? There will be no button to undo the change.

These may be bugs in the Family Tree Change Log

Another issue I found, and I don’t know if this is just because I was on the Beta tree, is that my real name was displayed in the change log instead of my display name (as shown by the arrow, #3, above). Why give me a check box to keep my real name private, if you are going to ignore my wishes?

Seems like a bug to me.

Thanks for your question, John.

The Ancestry Insider


  1. Family Tree does seem to hide features at times. The change log has every change, but you can also filter the items. In your example of the death date you need to get to the pertinent part of the change log. Do this by opening the death information by clicking on it. Below the reason statement will be a line that says "Modified | History." Click on "History" and you will go to the change log for just the death information. The list will be much shorter. I agree this could be better advertised.

    As for you second comment, if a value has never been changed but is wrong, why not just delete it? Or just put in the correct information?

  2. Family Tree's failure to do validation checks as data is being entered imposes a huge cost on those of us who are trying to be good citizens and keep the data accurate. I have spent what seems like countless hours fixing completely illogical changes that users make. Just this morning I had to fix a christening date someone had put in that was ten years after the person was married! I know FS is buried in enhancement requests, but doing a simple validation check as users are entering data seems pretty basic.


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