How to Stop People from Making Incorrect Changes in Family Tree

Tips for keeping the correct information on your family in the FamilySearch Family Tree

The whole idea of having a unified family tree program based on the wiki model is that the users of the program can make changes, add information and correct entries. What the complainers are saying is that they want their own, personal space on the Family Tree where none of their information can be changed. That is the essence of the owned, private family tree. Guess what? There are already millions of those around on paper and online and where has it gotten us? It has gotten us into the mess we have today with inaccurate family trees that verge on fantasy.

I can think of a huge number of parts of my inherited genealogy where my family knew the absolute truth and their absolute truth turned out to be absolutely wrong. So what? Well it may take forty years of wandering in the wilderness before that generation dies off and the corrections are made but there will still be those who think they have a pedigree going back to Adam. As President Harry S. Truman is commonly quoted as saying, "If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen."

You need to be open to change and not adverse to reconsidering your cherished opinions to work on the FamilySearch Family Tree. But you also need to be thorough and consistent.

There are several things you can do to minimize the impact of people making changes. Here are my five top suggestions:

No. 1: Add as many sources as you can to each individual

The person who has the most sources wins. It is true that some new or inexperienced users will make changes without considering the sources listed. But, these changes are like maintaining a car or house, they will just be a constant background to the use of the program. They will diminish over time as families educate the new generation of users. In my own family, involvement with the Family Tree is slowly expanding among my older children. The larger families will start to form cores of experienced users and the problems with maintaining the Family Tree's integrity will start to diminish dramatically for existing families. The key to all this is adding every available source to each individual in the Family Tree.

No. 2: Correct existing entries

If an ancestral entry is incomplete or lacks detail, it is an open invitation for improper changes or merging. I am amazed that people seem to work on their family history but fail to correct the existing entries.

No. 3: Watch all of the family members of a target ancestor

Each individual in the Family Tree can be "watched." This function provides that FamilySearch will send you an email once a week outlining all the changes to watched people in the Family Tree. Reviewing this list gives you an idea about what is happening with the Family Tree program and your watched ancestors specifically. You can then go to the changes and correct improper changes or review any new additional information of which you were previously unaware.

No. 4: Communicate with anyone making an unreasonable or incorrect change

There is absolutely no reason to wait for permission to correct an error. If necessary, you can use the revert function from the History page to correct extensive errors or merges. Do not make changes to the page if there has been an improper merger. Revert the merge before making any changes. But always send a message explaining the problem and the correction even if you do not get a response at all. Just make the corrections and talk about it after the fact. If there is a real disagreement with sources etc. then get into a conversation about the issues. Remain calm and don't fight.

No. 5: Be persistent

If you are wrong, admit it and allow the changes. If you are right, be sure to review any sources and and additional information provided because you might be wrong. Take time to think and reflect and not react as if the changes were personal affronts. But overall be persistent.

We have found that adding sources is the one biggest deterrent to irrational changes. Don't go down without a response. Always respond with kindness and sources. Do not get into a revert war where you simply change something back without comment.

Remember the admonition in Alma 7:23:

"And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive."

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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