Friday, June 25, 2010

What's Cooking at FamilySearch.org? GIGO?

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There is more news from the LDS FamilySearch website about the new Family Tree online database. I was reading Renee Zamora's Renee's Genealogy Blog post titled nFS June release beta includes new features, discussion boards, etc. from last week, and she noted that several new features were coming soon, including:

"The biggest one is 'Discussion boards'. Behind each ancestor will be a discussion board, sort of like a talk page on a wiki, where one can discuss what they are doing or what they need to find in regards to that ancestor."

"The next feature is 'exact search', you will need to have several of the fields filled out to activate this. There will also be some things with the standardized places to allow for defunct places that are not yet in the database to be added."

Renee included a link to the http://ftbeta.familysearch.org/ site to see more about the Discussion Boards, but the link doesn't work for me now. I found a 7-page PDF for the June 2010 What's New information. Please read all of Renee's post.

James Tanner, on the Genealogy's Star blog, recently wrote Waiting for the shoe to drop in New FamilySearch about the Discussion Boards, and he noted that:

"The newest version of New FamilySearch implements the individual "Discussion Board." This is sort-of a mini-forum available for each individual. The announcement of the implementation says:


"* Each deceased individual in the system has a discussion board, where you can do the following:
* Identify yourself as someone who is interested in or actively working on an individual or family line.
* Coordinate the correction of errors and additional research with other interested users.
* Identify incorrect information on the individual’s record."

Please read all of his post. James' closing paragraph is:

"It will be interesting to see if the new discussion feature has an impact on the amount of poorly researched and inaccurate information being loaded into the program. One of the most obvious issues with the new discussion tab is that there is nothing in the program indicating that there is discussion going on. It is likely that the same people who do not take the time to edit or review their inaccurate entries will not take the time to read the discussions either. I am putting out a few discussions to see if anyone reads them."

That sure doesn't give me a lot of confidence that the new FamilySearch Family Tree will be much better than the current Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File and IGI cobbled together! It sounds like GIGO - Garbage in, Garbage Out - to me.

The impression I had from all of the nifty FamilySearch presentations at NGS 2010 and SCGS 2010 was that the duplicates were being combined and the general public would be invited late in 2010 or in early 2011 to contribute their family tree data. The "One Big Mother of all Family Trees" was almost ready to go!

James identifies the big problem with using the existing data in the nFS Family Tree database in his post What is going into New FamilySearch? He concludes his post with:

"In this regard, the latest change to the program initiated a Discussion tab for each individual. Other than the fact that there is nothing in the program indicating that a discussion is available, this is at least a possible step in the right direction. But it does not address the core problem of the multiplicity of inaccurate information flooding into the program. "

Is the nFS Family Tree database destined to go the route of almost all other large family tree databases (whether merged or separate)? They have many duplicate entries and wrong information for many persons.

The Discussion Boards sound like a wonderful idea in theory. I truly hope that they will work as intended. I wrote about the use of Footnote Pages to capture evidence and resources about individuals during the NGS Conference, and mentioned something like the Discussion Boards. But what if they don't work as intended? Does FamilySearch have a fallback position if they don't work as expected?

The one online family tree database that I'm aware of that has some sort of editorial control over duplicate persons, and information for those persons, is the WeRelate family tree wiki at http://www.werelate.org/. When I added persons to the database, I had to manually merge persons in my tree with persons in the existing database that were probably the same persons before it would let me upload my tree data. For some persons, mainly those with many descendants that submitted family trees (e.g., Mayflower passengers, connections to European royalty, etc.), the information about them was standardized and "fixed" by designated editors or monitors, and changes to the information can only be done by discussion and agreement between the submitters and the editors/monitors.

Perhaps FamilySearch will have to take the decisions about what is "alleged" about a specific person in their Family Tree database out of the hands of the contributors and create some sort of mediation or arbitration board that decides facts based on the available evidence brought to the discussion by the contributors. That sounds like many lifetimes of hard work that may cause a lot of hard feelings and arguments. But it may be the ultimate best solution that bases judgments on facts and evidence rather than unsupported data.

As you probably know, I am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and do not have access to the new FamilySearch Family Tree database. I am really interested in what is going to happen with the nFS Family Tree database because many non-LDS researchers will be tempted to search it for research clues and may add their family tree data to the database.

My thanks to Renee and James, and to The Ancestry Insider, for sharing their information about the nFS Family Tree changes. Who will be the first genea-blogger to show what the Discussion Boards look like and how they work?

3 comments:

Sue Maxwell said...

Randy, there are a couple of issues here. One is that there is well over 100 years of inputed data; some of which had to be transcribed from original handwritten family group sheets. So there are errors.

Two, all of this data had to be linked together as well as possible; some of which was poorly documented and also had very minimal data.

Three, not every user of the system really utilizes the features to make corrections and, they don't combine and un-combine duplicates of individuals very well.

Four, there has been little individual control over data that a person did not submit themselves. Apparently they (FS) want to change that. You know how well the wiki's work -- a mistake is corrected immediately by the community at large. Well, FamilySearch wants to do that with this tree.

FS did not, nor does it, ever delete any information. Everyone's submission (which could be 100s of entries per person) is kept. There is a "summary" of the most accurate of details as well as a "details" page that lists all variations of submissions.

Once in a while, especially where there are multiple children with the same name in the same family, the records get combined in error. They need to be uncombined.

Sometimes a father and son have the same name and they inadvertently get combined, creating a loop.

Because the sourcing capability in nFS is still severely lacking in substance, people are not using it. I know FS wants to rectify that also.

Many of the records in nFS are from the community at large. Many (not all) Family trees that were submitted to the pedigree resource file CD's are included; many of which were submitted by non LDS. So there is much more than just Mormon submitted records. However, their sources and comments were not added.

I'm excited to see how the "discussions" evolve. I'll post something as soon as I see some taking place.

So given time, I believe we will end up with an awesome family tree that CAN be used to help in our genealogy endeavors!

Barbara Renick said...

Randy, I suggested to Jay Verkler at NGS 2010 that nFS use a discussion thread similar to Google's Wave to encourage collaboration. He even wrote the suggestion down. Personally, I get tired of correcting the same errors over and over again. (I get even more tired of un-merging incorrectly merged trees in nFS.)

My hope was to create a place where I could publish my analyses of research problems for preservation and to point other people to them so I don't have to type them again and again. Once should be enough.

With a Google Wave you can grab portions of a "conversation" and reuse them elsewhere to start a new thread etc. It was just a thought toward starting with an easy-to-use casual threaded discussion which when refined enough (in wiki fashion) could be copied and placed into source documentation, hopefully without too much re-typing.

I was probably one of thousands making this suggestion. I was glad to see it appear in the last nFS test session (which is now over and why your link did not work). The discussion feature is very simple to use. I'm certain many people will come up with ideas for refinements to it.

I particularly like the idea of flagging (or in some way making more apparent) which individual (or family) records have active discussions. I would like to see this taken even further to identify which fields of information for a person have discussions. Perhaps this could be done with different fonts and colors and icons.

One of the classic omissions in personal genealogy database programs is a field for proof of relationship between children and parents. How did you prove that the Mathew LINDSAY in Washington Co., VA in a land record was the same Mathew LINDSAY who was supposed to be the father (but I suspect grandfather) of William LINDSAY of Campbell Co., TN in a county history? "Proving" where and when someone was born is NOT the same as proving who their parents where. I agree with Bob Velke on that one. His TMG is one of the few programs that let you source dates and places separately.

My biggest (and most forcefully expressed) suggestion during the recent nFS testing session, was that they make combining families take as many steps as un-combining incorrectly merged families. I'm sure they got the same suggestion from every single tester.

I am even beginning to wonder about the extent of their computer merging (shades of Ancestral File again). Surely no human could be stupid enough to merge the Andrew GROSS and wife Mary E. LINDSAY family of Campbell Co., TN with the Andrew GROSS and wife Mary E. GREEN family of Warren Co., TN when they had children born in the same years in different counties? But, then again....

But this argues for the very need of an online tree system that lets you know what mistakes have been made and perpetuated (as Sue Maxwell posted in her comment)and disproved again and again.

Sue Maxwell said...

Barbara, just one little comment.. FS does not MERGE any records any longer (They did once in the old Ancestral file and it was a disaster; some of which carried over to nFS however). Now they only COMBINE records. So you see the good, the bad, and the ugly! :)