How to Use FamilySearch Family Tree Effectively

Why it's important to add sources to FamilySearch Family Tree

I have a standing challenge to anyone with a record of any substantial family history: I can find inconsistencies and mistakes in your family lines in less than 15 minutes. I have been challenged again and again, and I have always been able to find the problems. Why is this the case? I can give you an example. I was once an art major at the University of Utah studying painting and drawing. Over and over again the instructors showed us that we could achieve only a certain level of competence and then we failed to see any further need for improvement. Once we became comfortable with our performance, we accepted it as the norm and we could not see how we could improve on what we had done. In genealogy we accept our previous efforts no matter how misguided or superficial they may have been. It is not until someone comes along and points out our deficiencies that we can make any further progress. A great researcher has the ability to question his or her own work as if looking at it from the outside and see the deficiencies.

Sometimes, over time, we can go back to our earlier work and see how much we could improve. What I mean by serious data problems is information that is unreliable and unsubstantiated and could indicate that the wrong people have been included in the pedigree. It is entirely possible that they might be the right people but it is also equally as possible that they are not.

The problem with genealogy is that there is usually no one out there telling you that your work is not accurate or complete. I have had copies of my genealogy files out on the Internet for years and have almost never had anyone question my work or inform me that what I had recorded was wrong. Consequently, I have spent the last 25 years or so correcting my own errors. When I go back and look at some of my early work, I have to cringe.

If tangles are the rule, then what hope is there?

Part of the answer lies in systematically documenting every addition to your family tree. The rest of the answer will come through a cooperative effort on the part of huge families. This is basic concept behind the development of the FamilySearch Family Tree. It is a "unified" and "self-correcting" program. The unified part means that everyone can see and work with the information. The self-correcting part means that many people help it to become more accurate.

The basis of any progress in sorting out the information in the Family Tree is careful, documented research. As I have added sources and corrected the existing information from those sources, the Family Tree has become locally more reliable. This is a slow, methodical process. Not every data field can be completely established and/or verified. By their nature, historical records are often conflicting and may be inaccurate or incomplete. Some relationships may never be adequately established. Ultimately, the only way the Family Tree overcomes the merging problem and every other challenge to the integrity of the information is step by step and data field by data field.

Every user of the tree needs to closely examine all of the sources added to every individual for relevance. Inappropriate sources need to be detached. The information presented by the sources needs to be evaluated and where appropriate used to correct the entries in the Family Tree. All unsupported relationships need to be deleted. As the program progresses, all duplicate entries need to be merged. This needs to be done, individual by individual, systematically working backward from the individual user. Any conflicting information needs to be resolved by collaboration. As we collectively work on the Family Tree we will soon find the current limitations of the information and can begin to add more information that is missing. As a byproduct of this methodology, new individuals will be added to the Family Tree. Skipping generations back into the past to do "research" on remote ancestors is counterproductive. Unless all of the intervening individuals are adequately documented, the users who jump generations are almost guaranteed to be working on people to whom they are not related.

We are not so much building a new structure as remodeling an old one. We need to make sure of the adequacy of the construction of the tree at every level before adding on. Patience, accuracy, responsibility and most importantly love for the people in the tree should be the basis for what we do.

The Family Tree is like a vast battlefield. The soldiers in the battle are the researchers. The opposition forces are simply irresponsible and in some cases incompetent. It is not much of battle really. Adding sources and documentation with extensive explanations where appropriate will prevail. The rallying cry is "Truth will Prevail".

Let's get to work.

Written by James L. Tanner. Used with permission.

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