Sunday, June 09, 2013

The New New FamilySearch: a first look

There have been several changes to the FamilySearch web site over the years. I'll refer to different versions that I will call:

  1. the Old FamilySearch
  2. the Old New FamilySearch
  3. the New New FamilySearch
The Old FamilySearch (1) allowed you to search the IGI, and transcripts of the 1880/1881 US, Canadian and English censuses, and the Ancestral File. It allowed you  to download Gedcom files of what you had found, which was very useful for quick 'n dirty research.

This was updated to the Old New Familysearch (2), which included more records, but lacked the facility for a Gedcom download. Most users did not like it much, and thought that more effort had gone into making the user interface look pretty than making it useful to genealogists.

Now there is a New New FamilySearch (3), and I've been having a quick look at it, and my first impression is that it is much improved. It has been available to LDS Church members for some time, and I gather that they have been beta-testing it, but now it is open to the general public.

The best news is that you can once again download data from it, though it not the raw data like the census transcripts of the old FamilySearch, but rather information in online family trees. To download the data you will need a third-party program, Get My Ancestors from Ohana Software. Get My Ancestors is free, but is also part of a larger program called Family Insight, which costs $US 25.00.

Get My Ancestors is described as follows:
 Get My Ancestors is a stand-alone program that will allow the user to download linked pedigrees from FamilySearch, family tree (aka, new FamilySearch) in a .paf format. Download either a pedigree that starts with you or the pedigree of an ancestor. You indicate the ancestor by entering their personal identifier from FamilySearch family tree. You must be able to register for FamilySearch family tree to successfully use Get My Ancestors. The individual information downloaded is the summary information of basic events: birth christening, death, burial and marriage but not ordinances.
It also doesn't appear to download sources.

In order to get the most out of the New New FamilySearch, you need to create an online family tree. I've found most of the online family tree sites I've looked at distinctly underwhelming, and so I need quite a lot of persuading to get me to do such a thing. I looked at and its little brother Mundia, at My Heritage, and They all seemed to be clunky, and they seemed encourage the entry of wrong data and make it difficult to correct. Data entry and maintenance was difficult, and the presentation was usually ugly.

The New New FamilySearch is a vast improvement over the others in all these departments, and in addition it is free.

The user interface is less cluttered, and the information is presented in a much easier-to-read way.

It's not perfect by any means, and no doubt as I continue to use it I will discover some flaws, but it's a lot better than anything else I've seen in the way of online family trees.

Like many of the others, it asks you to start with yourself, and enter your parents and other ancestors. As you enter them, it suggests possible ancestors entered by other people, or as part of the source material extracted from church and civil registers, census records and the like. You can add some of these entries as source references to an online tree, but you will not be able to download them with Get My Ancestors.

Another advantage is that you can contact other users directly. If you disagree with the information provided by another user, you can click on their name, and up pops their e-mail address, and you can mail them. In most of the commercial programs you can send an internal message. They say that this to "protect privacy", but the real reason for it is that they want users to keep coming back and to be dependent on them. Yes, you can leave a message, but the person will not get it until they next log into that site, and they might not do so for several days if they are busy, or for several months if they have lost interest, and perhaps not at all if they have forgotten to pay their subscription.

Are there any drawbacks to the New New FamilySearch?

Yes, there are some -- unlike the Old FamilySearch, it won't let you download transcripts of source records, and though you can download data from other family trees, some of which are based on sources, the source record itself is not included in the download.

So though in some ways it as not as good as the Old FamilySearch, it is a lot better than the Old New FamilySearch, and as far as online trees are concerned, it's one of the best I have seen.

This is just a first impression based on a quick look at it. Perhaps I'll have more to say about when I've used it a bit more.

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