Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Conversation with David E. Rencher - Part 1

...
I had the distinct honor and pleasure of talking by telephone to David E. Rencher, the Chief Genealogical Officer for www.FamilySearch.org. You can read David's curriculum vitae and responsibilities in this blog post by The Ancestry Insider from about a year ago.

I audio-taped our 30 plus minute conversation, and will transcribe some of David's responses (with his permission) to my questions about FamilySearch.org in a series of blog posts in the next few days. I listened to David's interview with Dick Eastman that Dick posted on my Monday to his Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter - the post was titled Podcast: An Interview with David Rencher about the NGS Conference in Salt Lake City and dealt mostly with the upcoming NGS Conference.

I wanted to focus on what's happening with FamilySearch.org, and especially with New FamilySearch and Family Search Indexing. Unfortunately, my time ran out before I could ask about the Record Search databases and the Family Search Wiki.

Here is a segment from our discussion about New FamilySearch:

Randy Seaver (RS): Has New FamilySearch been rolled out to all of the LDS Stakes now?

David Rencher (DR): The rollout to the LDS audience has been completed. First and foremost, New FamilySearch is a way that LDS members can submit names for Temple Ordinances, so it's an evolving process. It really began in earnest back when we were able to mount the International Genealogical Index to compact disks. That was really the gateway to be able to distribute the names clearance function out to members. With the advent of that system, we were able to allow members to clear names at a local Family History Center or a church or ward building near them.

New FamilySearch takes that now the next step further. Now we can extend it beyond the borders of the Family History Center circulation and operation and we can move it all the way into the home. We're taking such a unique different approach to New FamilySearch. with a pedigree approach to clearing names, it gives us more identifiers, and we think the advantage to having more identifiers, meaning with more family names and things of that nature, that it will decrease the duplication of work and effort and we'll actually be able to collapse some of those pedigrees that have multiple names and representations of the same individual.

That said, the basis for doing that creates a pedigree system that, taken to the next level, given appropriate source citations and dealing with the data in a way that genealogically makes sense. That's a program that we believe the general public will want to use as well. Of course the jury is still out, because we haven't released it to the general public, but the point at which we do we believe the people will like a number of the product features. As with any product, it's just barely finished it's initial rollout, there are a number of features and applications that are going to have to improve and be enhanced, because it's a different approach to doing things than the way we've done them before.

I think the genealogical audience at large, when they first view it, are going to have a number of observations about it, they're going to have a number of things that they want it to do that it doesn't yet do, but I think they are also going to see the potential of it and what it could become. Hopefully we can stand the suspense of getting to the point where it really is a tool that people want to use and that it helps and facilitates people to do the kind of things that they want it to do.

RS: It's been a long birth of the baby, hasn't it?

DR: It has. One of the things that is sometimes difficult to estimate is the complexity of family history. At first blush, it just doesn't seem that complex. But when you stat having to deal with the massive amount of data, with the standards that need to be in place, with the data transfer, with the merging algorithms, with the combination groups, the quality algorithms, when you start to go down that path, and really start to develop a system that has to do so many complex tasks, it's easy to underestimate the scope of what you're trying to accomplish.

RS: What does New FamilySearch include at this time?

DR: The pedigree feature gives you the ability to see families in context. The great thing that it going to open up that we haven't had before is the collaborative aspect of it . People have made submissions to the International Genealogical Index and the Ancestral File, and other products over the years, one of the things people have always wanted to be able to say is "who submitted this information and how do I get in touch with them?" New FamilySearch is finally going to give us the ability to be able to collaborate with each other. It's also going to give us the ability to disagree with each other. You and I may be working on the same line, I may make a different conclusion than you do. You are able to get in touch with me and say "Dave, I really think it's this person for these reasons." And I'll be able to look at the evidence and say, "Randy, you're right, I blew that one, I like your evidence and I agree with you, let's make sure that it gets represented that way in the system."

RS: Is that discussion in email, or on the web site? How public is it?

DR: It is not public to everyone. It's a forum between the two of us. We'll collaborate and we'll be able to do that. Then you can open and extend that to others that you choose. So you can open it as wide as you want to. The other major difference is that it removes the need to have your own personal desktop data management software. You can manage all of your data now on New FamilySearch. Where I've used Personal Ancestral File for years on my laptop, I don't have to have my own Personal Ancestral File database any more. I can simply go to New FamilySearch and manage all of my content there. So that's a pretty radical departure from the way most genealogists have learned over the years to manage their data.

To be continued...

4 comments:

James Tanner said...

Thanks for the Interview. Let's hope what he says comes to pass. I think we have a long way to go yet with New FamilySearch before it becomes a replacement for my storage location of choice.

Myrt said...

I don't think it will ever replace our own genealogy databases. I think of newFS as another RESOURCE for genealogists to locate previously compiled research.

A.C. Ivory said...

I agree with James and Myrt. I don't think I would ever want New FamilySearch to replace my desktop application. There are many personal files, documents, photos, etc. that I have in my desktop application that I do not want to place on New FamilySearch for privacy reasons. I don't even know if it will get to the point where we will be able to add media to the pedigree on New FamilySearch. Myrt, you're right, it is a RESOURCE for genealogists.

Anonymous said...

I personally think that cloud computing will be the future of genealogy, and that it might move us past the current practice of lots of undocumented web pedigrees by individuals unaware of other researchers' efforts. I tried to engage David Rencher in conversation about New Family Search about a year ago at a conference in St. Louis, but either he misunderstood my question or did not seem too eager to reveal info about it. For that reason, I enjoyed reading what he had to say and will be looking forward to the successive part or parts of the interview.