Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Family is all Messed Up on FamilySearch Family Tree – #BYUFHGC

Ben Baker addressing the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyBen Baker spoke at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. His topic was “Help! My Family is all Messed Up on FamilySearch Family Tree.” Ben’s presentations are always packed with useful information and this was no exception. Fortunately, he posts his slides. You can see them for yourself at http://www.slideshare.net/bakers84/help-my-family-is-all-messed-up-on-familysearch-family-tree. This is the first of two articles recounting his remarks.

FamilySearch Family Tree is somewhat like a wiki. Anyone can make a change. Everyone sees the changes. It is maintained by volunteers. It’s free. It reduces duplication and encourages collaboration. Your research outlives you. You can link to photos, stories, and sources.

Ben posed the question, “If collaborative family trees are so great, how come everything is so
messed up?” To begin with, Family Tree was created from multiple kinds of sources. And Family Tree has imperfect patrons. It astounds him how “creative” people are when they make changes. “People do really crazy things. It never ceases to amaze me,” he said. The third factor is that FamilySearch has done things in the past to try to clean things up, and sometimes have made them worse.

There are three special usernames that frustrate users when they show up as a contributor in Family Tree. They sometimes introduce or re-introduce errors.

FamilySearch This value means that a FamilySearch administrator, or an automated FamilySearch tool, has changed the information. This happens when someone at FamilySearch is fixing problems that can’t be fixed in any other way.

This value indicates that Family Tree doesn’t know who the contributor was. On the slides Ben gave Pedigree Resource File contributions as an example. In his presentation, he mentioned the old four generation program (by which, I suppose he meant Ancestral File). I don’t think either of those are correct. I think Family Tree doesn’t know the identity of some contributors to the International Genealogical Index. When FamilySearch keyed in paper submissions to the IGI, they didn’t key in contributor or source information. This value exists for original contributors only; current contributors are all known.

LDS Church Membership

This value means that FamilySearch brought the information into Family Tree from the Church membership system. FamilySearch synchronizes Family Tree with the Church’s membership database on a regular basis.

When you call support, you get different tiers. The first tier consists of volunteer missionaries. They can escalate to  higher tiers. One of the higher levels is the Data Quality team. They can escalate bugs to the software developers; that’s when Ben would get involved. Ask support to escalate if the first tier is not able to solve your issue.

But things are getting better. There are hundreds of millions of sources attached to Family Tree. That is stabilizing things because people are less likely to make changes when there are lots of sources. People are merging duplicates; there are 40,000 merges per day and it has been as high as 50,000. Another sign that things are getting better is the reduced number of times that people undo merges. In the New FamilySearch tree, for every four combines, there was one separate. That was probably a sign that people were making incorrect combines. Today, there are about 30 to 1 merges to restores. Ben takes that as evidence that users feel like most merges are correct. And there are few reports of “edit wars.” That’s when two people disagree about a fact and constantly change it back and forth. There are some. Click the report abuse button if it is happening.

We’ll know Family Tree has “arrived” when it is the first place to go to find out about a historical person. “That’s not true today,” Ben admitted. We want people to say, “Wow, this is amazing. Why would I want to go make my own tree somewhere else?”

Stay tuned for more…


  1. I quit using the church's program because it has messed up my family so bad, no one can tell the original factual family. It's too much of a mess to ever get straightened out. So, five years ago, I stopped using it. No more.

    1. I've got a messed up family as well a few generations back and haven't touched those yet, but I recognize we are the 'clean-up generation', trailblazers to make the road better in the future. While it's annoying to have big messes, it's also great to have tools with more to come that can finally solve these. It's an exciting time to be a Family History pioneer.

  2. Can one upload a GEDCOM to FamilyTree and then merge any potential matches? I love the idea of a collaborative tree, but sure wouldn't bother to upload my whole database one person at a time.

    1. Yes you can. You go to Search - Genealogies and at the bottom is a submit GEDCOM. This loads it to the Pedigree Resource File and compares it to FT. Once that is done you have the option to add records not already there or copy date from your GEDCOM to already existing records. You can't add living this way nor notes or sources. You can also add unique records to FT through third-party programs. Go to the apps store at FS to find out more.

  3. Yes, you can. The tools could still be better, but you can go to https://familysearch.org/upload/trees to upload a GEDCOM. After some time matching against what's already in the tree, you can add persons not in the tree yet.

  4. Can one delete their submission and resubmit a Gedcom file to start all over? I went through the processes for over 3500 individuals only to see a very small and difficult-to-edit/maintain tree. After numerous go-rounds with various levels of support I finally gave up on FT as a 'free' source and replacement for the expensive Ancestry.com. Thus my opening question. Thanks.

  5. I wish there was a tutorial I could read before I begin. I don't see one. I do see that they give directions 'as you work' but I want to know the procedure before hand to determine if I even want to start. I'm concerned that I read somewhere that notes and sources in your GEDCOM won't be added to the tree. So now wondering how one decides between conflicting data if there are no sources to determine validity. If this is spelled out somewhere on the site, pls point me to it.

  6. One new problem that will get worse as the population ages is people with dementia using famity search. My mother's greatest joy is to find names to do temple work for. Unfortunately, that means we have had to change her password and sit with her while she works or we end up with parents who would have been 160 when the child was born, or a woman giving birth to twins with each child having a different father.

    I've also seen a situation where when a neice got married, her new family wanted to add her relatives. Since grandma is still alive, they couldn't find her and created a new account with her dead and the child of her step mother.

    I still try to work on my family history, but spend more time fixing new mistakes than getting any work done. Please everyone, if you have no source document that you can link to a change, leave it alone.


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