Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Partnership Town Hall with FamilySearch Executives: Partnerships (#RootsTech #RTATEAM)

Rod DeGiulio
Craig Miller
Don Anderson

At RootsTech three executives from FamilySearch answered questions about partnerships. Bruce Brand was the moderator. Don Anderson is over the partner and patron services divisions, Rod DeGiulio is over the records division, and Craig Miller is over the product management and engineering divisions.

I’m at the point in my RootsTech reporting that I can’t understand all my notes, so I’m presenting them pretty much as-is. Text in square brackets [like this] are my editorial insertions or supplements not contained in my notes.

Brand asked a question about the original iPhone 2007. What was missing the first year? There were no apps. The next year they opened it up to third parties. A year ago, they had over 1,000,000 apps. [What about FamilySearch?] “Our core strategy is partnering and collaboration.”

Q; Why don’t you offer an API to allow uploading trees?

A; We have one for Family Tree, now. We will later have an API to upload a single tree.

Q; Why does Family Tree Maker not sync to FamilySearch Family Tree?

Don; That’s a question for them, rather than me. I’m hopeful they will soon sync.

Q; Are there any plans for those who have forgotten where we’ve searched?

Craig: That’s a ways out. Our priority list this year is

1. Plumbing
2. Make hints more real-time. Pretty much when you put people in you’ll see hints updated.

Don: Attach your sources. You’ll have a sense of where you have been. There are some 3rd party products.

Bruce; If you go to Person, you’ll see the last 20 persons you touched.

Don: It wouldn’t show the searches you’ve done.

Q; In my tree and in FamilySearch Family Tree I have different records attached. Is there a way to synchronize them?

Don: For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, there is a synchronize sources. It is not quite done but will be done in the next month or two. For the general public, it not available right now.

Q; When I link a record to Family Tree for a marriage, I don’t want to link to the parents.

Craig; We’re looking at having a specific template for those types of records. After we do the plumbing we’ll work towards templatizing that work.

Q; What’s an upcoming feature you’re excited about?

Rod: First of all, this year, sometime, we’ll have our new indexing platform. It will enable more flexibility for choosing projects, or even a county within a project. And more and more partnering allowing access of their records on our site; that will enable hinting.

Don: The most exciting to me is the new companies with apps. I think we’ll see the most growth in the app gallery. I’m particularly excited about and [somebody else that I didn’t capture in my notes]. Lastly, I’m very excited that within the next six months we’ll have synch with Findmypast and MyHeritage trees.

Craig: My most exciting feature is what Don just mentioned, having all the trees coming to a common base. It’s staggering in vision. That’s mind blowing. Second Is real-time hinting. Another is a novelty coming sometime during the year. It’s the notion of how we’re related. There’s a number of privacy concerns that need to be worked out.

Q; in New FamilySearch we had the ability to uncombine. Is that going to be added back in?

Craig: The ability to unmerge currently exists. We’ll enhance it to take care of IOUSes. That will be in about a year and a half.

Q; is there a plan to require people who sign up to provide contact information?

Craig: We use the Church’s system of authentication. The Church’s membership system does not require an email address because many Church members across the world don’t have access to computers. That’s one of the hundreds of reasons why. If you’re not a member of the Church, you have to have an email. Later on this year we’ll have a system of internal messages [Instead of needing to send emails]. You’ll be able to send them a message and talk to them. Whether they get back to you is their choice. We hope that will open the doors of communication.

Q; Legacy Family Tree has a sharing mechanism. It is not working right now. And when will we be able to share…[I didn’t get this down. Sources?].

Don: It is possible to fully synchronize, including sources. The only area we haven’t fully released is the Memories area. The end of the 2nd quarter or so is the timeframe for that.

Q; On living people in Family Tree, changes are made that were attributed to FamilySearch, and odd changes to names [are being made].

Craig: A lot of our information about living [persons] comes from the [Church] Membership Department. Occasionally they make a change that pulls the person from Family Tree, and then puts it back. [Occasionally this causes the problem you’re seeing.] We’re having a terrible time figuring out this plumbing problem between the Tree and the Membership Department.

Q; Sometimes you can’t combine people because of a membership record…

Craig: The two most common reasons [you can’t combine is because the merge would create an IOUS and] because in the membership system there are two membership records.

Don: When that happens, you should have an option to shoot a message to support who can approach the Membership Department about getting it fixed.

Q; You mentioned the ability to find relationships. We recently used a tool from an employee within FamilySearch, I think. Lots of people in the ward turned in membership numbers and the system found a bunch of 4th cousins. Everyone got excited about family history.

Bruce: it is called Relative finder. It is from Brigham Young University. [See It requires a FamilySearch account. If multiple people join a group, the website can look for relationships among the group. For example, I am 10th cousins with Rod DeGuilio.]

Rod: That will be a fun capability once it is introduced. I found one of my direct reports was a 3rd cousin.

Q; There is a lot of talk about ideas about storing structured citations and reasoning. Programmers say it isn’t a priority. What is the long term strategy?

Craig: We have an ongoing standard called GEDCOM X. We’re using that as a standard to transfer information. The developer you talked to is right. We’re working on lots of plumbing problems. Once that is done, we’ll be able to work on these types of problems.

Don: We are watching the quality of the tree. […] It creates the right environment to have sticky conclusions. Sources are showing up more prominently. How do we [encourage quality] without discouraging new users. We actively monitor the tree for quality measures. We have a great deal of dialog and future roadmap.

Q; The portion of the tree I see has a lot of blocked records. What is the long term plan?

Don: Records are locked for a number of reasons: IOUSes, famous individuals, early church leaders, and those before 1500s. There are processes of getting changes by involving support.

Q; What about adding impedance changes in the future to discourage bad changes?

Don: [Sorry, Don. I missed so much of your reply, I can’t understand my notes.] 

Q; How are we doing getting rights to records that custodians won’t give us access to?

Rod: It is largely a matter of prioritization. We’ve been gathering records since 1894. We are adding about 450 million images a year. We’re anticipating being able to double that. It will take a few decades before we get to all the records that members need. The work we are doing with partners certainly […]. We signed 345 contracts last year for an additional nearly 1 billion records. The rate is accelerating.

Craig is fond of saying that on June 17th, 2014 the world changed. [That’s when FamilySearch released hinting.] I believe because of improvements to the Tree, getting records online will eventually become the bottleneck.

Don: We added about 500 million additional hints a couple of weeks ago. Currently they are about 98% accuracy. On top of that we’re continuing to improve that accuracy by getting better and better cross referencing algorithms. As well as that, we’re getting new records. i hope you’re enjoying it. I hope it is improving your research; it is helping mine.

Craig: When we added the ½ billion hints, it added 100 million hints to people in the tree who had never had hints before. Go back and look in your tree, if you haven’t in the last couple of weeks. As we analyze the attached hints, we have found that one out of every ten hints extends the line.

Rod: You can tell we’re pretty excited about hints. I’ve yet to find anyone who through hinting we haven’t been able to add someone to the tree.

Craig: So please index!!

Q; Does the engineering department have enough to do, or do they accept requests? As a partner, can we make suggestions on API changes or request features?

Don: Absolutely. (Send it into Dev Support.) It will get prioritized. We love to hear the feedback.

Q; When hinting tells me it has a new person to add, it creates a duplicate that has to be merged.

Craig; What happens with the system now, when you add a person from a hint we don’t look for duplicates. In the future we will try to do that. Before you accept a hint, check for duplicates. I bring up two screens and before I add a person through record hint attach, I check to see what the situation is with that person.

Q; One of my friends found a PAF file for a Mac. She wants to add it to Family Tree. How can she do that?

Don: There is no such thing as PAF for Mac. [Someone mentioned there was a really old version.] What is my advice if you are using a MAC? Convert. There are lots of choices. Contact support. We have a team that can do conversions. Then almost any of the current programs can import that.

Q; Sometimes we’re the victims of our own success. Congratulations on dealing with the number of users. Is there a way to see how bad the latency of the system is?

Craig: Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 9 pm is the heaviest usage by far, probably by double. Then evenings. Hopefully in about a year and a half you wont even be thinking about this. [My notes don’t say it, but he may have mentioned the “plumbing changes” again.]

Q; What kind of contracts do we have [with partners for LDS memberships]? We’ve been hearing one year, five years?

Don: We don’t reveal those. Things are going very well. I don’t see any reason why the relationships won’t continue into the foreseeable future.

[I’m guessing the next and final question came from a member of the FamilySearch staff:]

Q; Will you comment on the need for camera crews?

Rod: We have a dire need for more camera volunteers. We could double the number of cameras if we had the volunteers. Go to the volunteer section of and it will give a number of ways you can help.


  1. Synching various internet trees with FS-Family Tree is as bad an idea as was the way new.FamilySearch was created (composites of largely erroneous submitter data).

    This will make FS-FT a monster swamp. In the present state of synching with trees, a statement saying the "reason" for a person's data was correlated with **erases** a fact-based reason for the same datum that had been submitted by a different user. A host of LDS members appear, very mistakenly, to believe that "I got it from" is a valid reason statement. This should stop immediately.

  2. As you said you did the best you could with your notes, so perhaps I am misunderstanding the implications of your post, are they considering allowing people to upload entire Gedcom files or family trees to FamilySearch Family Tree? I am opposed to that. That would just increase the duplications and erroneous relationships in Family Tree.

    Even in obscure families like mine, there are multiple duplicates of the people in Family Tree caused by the entry of persons names from many of the records that have been indexed. It appears for people in the United States that were born in the very early 20th century and before they already have multiple profiles in Family Tree.

    Please let me know if this is under consideration.

    To enter a profile in Family Tree it should be checked against the individuals in Family Tree before it is allowed to be entered.

    Uploading entire Gedcom files or family trees to FamilySearch Family Tree, without checking each person one at a time against the persons in FamilySearch Family Tree, say it isn't so!


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