Ben 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…