The first important thing to remember here is that the proper place for your family tree is on your computer at home, and not on a remote site. There is plenty of free genealogy software out there, and two of the best programs interact easily with FamilySearch. They are RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree, both of which have free versions, and paid-for versions with extra features. Try the free ones first, and pay for the one you like best.
With either of these programs you can log in to FamilySearch and exchange information, one piece at a time. The only person who puts anything in your tree is you.
The tree on FamilySearch is a collaborative one, which means that it doesn't belong to anyone, and anyone can contribute, and obviously some contributions will be better than others.
But for the collaboration to work properly, you need to do a few things.
- Register with FamilySearch and include your email address.
- If you find information that differs from yours, think twice about changing it. Check the sources first, and only if you are certain, change it.
- It is easier to create a duplicate person and merge them later than to merge two people only to discover that they are not the same, and then have to separate them.
- In both RootsMagic and Legacy (and also in the online version). there is a Discussion section for disputed or unclear facts. Use it.
- There is a record trail of everyone who made any changes. If someone made a change you disagree with, ask them about it. That's why including your email address is important -- you can contact them right away, and not leave a message on FamilySearch that they will only see the next time they log in.
This is my method of working for a lot of things on FamilySearch.
I keep at least two family trees on my computer. One is my Research file, which includes a lot of speculative and unrelated information. So if there are two unrelated families with the same surname living in the same place at the same time, I colour the unrelated one blue in RootsMagic. But it's there for comparison, and for eliminating people you're already looked at and found to be unrelated.
If someone sends me a Gedcom file that links to someone in my family tree, I link them, then check them on FamilySearch by looking at the link person on FamilySearch family tree. Maybe someone else has already put in their spouse and kids. But don't just copy them to your tree; check the information and sources to see how accurate they are.
I recently found a woman named Isabel Richardson born in 1813, married in 1821, had her first child in 1822. Think about that. She cannot be the right Isobel Richardson. So what did I do?
On the FamilySearch web site I clicked Search --> Records, and asked if there was an Isabel Richardson born in that area between 1793 and 1807 (based on the dates of her oldest and youngest children. There were several, but I couldn't determine which one she was. So I left it, but left a note in the Discussion section to say that I did not think the Isabel Richardson born in 1813 could be the mother of the eldest of the children, and left it there. And, of course, I checked to see if anyone else had said anything about it in the discussion section..
That's how collaborative research works -- you spot an error, you leave a warning to other researchers, so everyone should be helping everyone.
If the place name spelling is different, then I do a web search for it. And sometimes boundaries change, so I try to use the description closest to the date of the event in the life of the person concerned.
There also some pitfalls to watch out for. Many records have been transcribed by volunteers, and some, perhaps by paid people who did not know much about genealogy. In several records, the name of the record office where the records are or were kept is used in the transcription for the name of the place where the people lived or an event took place. A lot of people are thus said to have married in Cumbria, England United Kingdom, which did not exist as a place before 1974, and just happens to be the place where the marriage record is kept, but was not where the marriage actually took place.
Or people are said to have died in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa, because that is where their wills were processed after they had died, even if the place where they died was hundreds of miles away. If there is an image of the original document, you may find the actual place of marriage or death from that, otherwise you might need to look for it in other sources. FamilySearch is often unhelpful here, showing you the less reliable records first. But a resourceful genealogist will usually find a workaround.