Thursday, August 06, 2009

Update New FamilySearch (Genealogy's Star)

Updated perspective on New FamilySearch
With the imminent introduction of New FamilySearch to the rest of the LDS community in Utah, I believe an update perspective would be valuable. I have now worked with the program since October of 2007, going on two years. I have had many opportunities to teach classes on New FamilySearch and provide many, many hours of one-on-one support. By and large the program functions admirably and is highly useful. The two opposite poles of users, those with no family data in the database and those with thousands of names of ancestors, have a completely different experiences with the program. Those with few, if any, ancestors have a simple and elegant interface that immediately allows them to enter information into the database and accomplishes the goal of the program to simplify preparing names for performing LDS Temple ordinance work. Those with pioneer or legacy families have the exact opposite experience, they are frustrated, angry, upset, or hopelessly discouraged. It is not my purpose to criticize New FamilySearch at all, but all the legacy users have about the same reaction.

The reaction of the legacy users is not a result of anything particular in the program itself, but the confusion caused by having combined multiple databases with contradictory information. The legacy users find that merely combining or separating records does not solve many of the data problems. Those problems most disturbing to legacy users include relatives entered with the wrong gender, non-relatives included in families, having a person shown as their own father or mother or grandfather or grandmother, and no easy or convenient way of making corrections.

There is also a significant number of users of the program who are so unsophisticated about the program and computers in general, that they do not even grasp what they are looking at on the screen and assume they need to add in all their information from scratch.

I am concerned that the negative reaction of legacy users will discourage new users of the program. I am also concerned that much of the work done by my relatives in sorting out the information over the past two years will be lost when the Utah folks get into the program and starting making their own changes before they understand what is going on.

Of course, a lot of this discussion is meaningless to those outside the Church or who do not have access to the program. But it is my experience that many people who do not presently have access to the program have been given access by those already registered. Since New FamilySearch will ultimately become one of the most complete genealogical databases in the world, it should be of interest even to those will not have access to the information until sometime in the future.

There are many online services, including, that attempt to provide a service for the sharing of family trees. But none of them attempt to combine multiple family trees into one reference database. As far as I know, every other online program allows each user or collaborative users to upload their family history files, but except for New FamilySearch, there is no effort to combine all the files into one huge database.'s Family Tree program comes close to combining information from multiple trees but New FamilySearch does not maintain separate family trees at all. All of the information entered goes into the one huge database.

I agree, in part, with the Ancestry Insider's recent post about the possible directions New FamilySearch could take. The first suggestion for the ideal family tree system was the ability to easily correct information. Because of the restriction in New FamilySearch concerning ownership of the information, there is no easy way to correct any information you have not personally contributed. Although I must state that the FamilySearch support staff are remarkably responsive in making corrections when asked. But making a simple correction is neither easy and in some cases not even possible. I find a great deal of dissatisfaction from people who cannot correct obvious, to them, errors.

One of the original goals of New FamilySearch was to attempt to limit the duplication of LDS Temple ordinances. Although I have heard reports that the number of duplicate ordinances has been decreased, my personal experience is just the opposite. I believe that many people are using the system to duplicate many, many, many more ordinances. In a recent meeting where a large group of people were shown an introduction to New FamilySearch, the entire group was told that when they went onto the program all they had to do was click on the green arrows and take the names to the Temple. In many cases where New FamilySearch shows a green arrow for an existing name, there are uncombined individuals who show that the ordinance work has been done. I see stacks of cards from Family Ordinance Requests that are nothing but duplicates. We speculate about how long it will take to mine out all of the duplicates already in the system and what efforts are going to be made to limit the additional duplicates created by users adding in their own information rather than checking to see if the information is already in the system.

The long introduction process has given us an opportunity to work through many issues with the use of the program and the data. The programmers have been very responsive in overcoming many of the early problems with the program, but have not been so successful in overcoming the problems with the data. As noted by the Ancestry Insider, the system needs to move towards the following goals:

* sources are used as evidence,
* they can see who changed the data and why they changed it,
* they are able to contact those making changes,
* they can optionally be notified when changes occur,
* they can hook reliable and verified sources to their data, and
* sources are protected and can be modified only by the contributor.

These are laudable goals and I do hope that the program will continue to move in that direction.
Posted by James Tanner at 11:02 AM

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