Monday, April 16, 2018

FamilySearch comes of age

In the last couple of years FamilySearch has completely changed the way I do my genealogy research. I now spend most of my research time comparing records in FamilySearch with what I already have, and reconstituting families from FamilySearch data.

It wasn't always like this.

FamilySearch has had its ups and down over the years, and sometimes useful features have been withdrawn and not replaced for some time. There are remnants of that in a poll in the sidebar of this blog. One useful feature recently withdrawn was the "Search Results", which I hope returns before long.

But what makes FamilySearch more useful now is its integration with programs like RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree.

The main hindrance to this usefulness is the "My Tree" attitude of many genealogists. There are many web sites that allow you to put your family tree on line where it can be seen by others. Some are static, and are difficult to update. Others are dynamic. But most of them are not collaborative. And people who have become used to that model are suspicious of collaborative projects like FamilySearch, because they don't like the idea of anybody else changing anything in "My Tree".

In the days when had a free version called Mundia, I used to refer to it quite a lot. It followed the "My Tree" model, and so you could find multiple versions of the same family on line. It also encouraged people to uncritically copy information to their own tree from others' trees. This uncritical copying often resulted in errors being multiplied. The majority was not always right. An inaccurate tree could be copied 10 times, and the accurate version could be copied only once or twice. You could follow the majority version, but it would be wrong. For some examples, see Jane Ellwood and the perils of online family trees, and Three Agnes Ellwoods -- Tombstone Tuesday.

FamilySearch still lets you have your tree, which no one else can alter. But the place for your tree is on your computer. You alone decide if you want to copy information from FamilySearch to your computer, so nobody else can alter your tree. But you can also share your research with others by copying information from your tree to FamilySearch.

So this is what I do now.

I look at my "Research" file on my computer, which is a copy of my "Main" file (where I keep mainly verified information). The Research file is more speculative, where I add possible links to be followed and verified later and so on.

I find a family that I have not looked at for some time, and check it with FamilySearch, comparing the two records side by side.

Sometimes I find someone has added information that I did not have -- parents of s spouse, for example. If they look likely I copy them to my Research file (not to my Main file at this stage).

I then click on the link to FamilySearch in my genealogy program and log in to FamilySearch on my web browser. That brings up the same family. For each member of the family there FamilySearch may bring up "Research Hints". These are the best research hints in the business. The suggestions are not always accurate, but in my experience they are right about 80% of the time.

For example, it may suggest a link to the person in one or more censuses. You are then offered the opportunity to attach the census record to that person as a source. That will also create a "Residence" event for that person in FamilySearch, which you can also copy to your own tree on your computer if you wish. The census records are often transcriptions, so need to be taken with a pinch of salt. There may be mistranscriptions and spelling errors, but you can make a note of these.

You may find that someone has already attached this source to another person. There are then three possibilities. One is that they have attached to to the wrong person. Another is that they have attached it to the right person but it is not the person you are looking for. A third, and the most common, is that the person they have attached it to is a duplicate of the person you want to attach it to. If that is the case, FamilySearch offers you the possibility of merging the duplicate people.

If you are sure that they are the same person, merge them. If you have doubts, you can contact the person who attached the record to discuss it with them. FamilySearch has a research trail, showing every change made by anyone, so that you can contact other users (sometimes a long-lost cousin). When you register to use FamilySearch, your record contains your contact information, which can include your e-mail address. I recommend that you include that, so that people can contact you about shared family members.

There is also, both on the FamilySearch web site and in the programs that link to it, a place where you can have discussions about problems relating to a particular person in your tree. Thus you can query information that someone else has added, that you think may not be accurate, or you can query discrepancies in records.

There are things to be careful of. For example, FamilySearch has lots of church baptism records from the Church of England. These have been transcribed from microfilms of the original registers, and sometimes two or more microfilms were made of the same register. The microfilms and the transcriptions made from them, vary in quality. One particular error is that the transcriber often included as a "Residence" the location of the parish where a baptism took place, rather than one taken from the "Abode" field in the register.  Where this is apparent I usually don't copy the "residence" information, and am careful about assuming that the place of baptism was the place of birth. Sometimes a census will show that the date of birth was different. This is the kind of thing you can add to the "Discussion" field.

In working like this with FamilySearch I'm usually adding several new people to my family tree each day, even if they are only seventh cousins. I am also organising scattered individuals on FamilySearch into families, which helps make it more useful for other members. And there's more than enough there to keep me busy for the rest of my life.

One of the questions that sometimes bothers genealogists is what happens to their research when they die, especially if no one in their immediate family is interested. But if you share your research on FamilySearch, it is there for others to make use of and add to, long after you are dead.

So drop the "My Tree" approach, and rather join the larger human family.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Could you add a little more information about your comment in the 3rd paragraph that FamilySearch withdrew "Search Results:"? I'm not aware of any search feature being withdrawn.


Steve Hayes said...

When you search for a particular person, you get a list of "Search Results". If you follow up one of the items displayed, it used to be possible to go back to the list of "Search Results" to choose another item from the list, but now it is no longer possible to do that.