Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Family Tree Maker 2014 Changes Web Merge Default - Users Beware

My friend, geneablogging colleague, and HOA/YouTube video producer Russ Worthington found a significant change in the latest Family Tree Maker 2014 update (Patch 5, build 404 and 1404) recently.  He wrote about it in Family Tree Maker 2014 SP6 Patch Notes - Patch #6, (build .404 or .1404) on his Family Tree Maker User blog on 11 August 2015:

The key paragraph is:

"...when you use the Web Merge Feature, you MUST look very closely at ALL of the Facts that are being merged.

"When merging, changed default to discard duplicate facts (even when different) rather than keep as duplicate alternate facts."

Read his entire post for more information, and watch his two YouTube videos about the BEFORE patch update and the AFTER patch update:

1)  BEFORE (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cI7uopzkna4):

2)  AFTER (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJXguz4rcZg):

In summary, the previous versions of Family Tree Maker 2014 in Web Merge (accessing Ancestry.com from within Family Tree Maker and adding Ancestry data into FTM directly) had the default set as "Alternate" for Facts for which there was already an entry (e.g. a Birth Fact for a person might already be available, and a Census record might provide an implied birth year and place).  The program would, for example, create an Alternate Birth Fact for the implied birth year and place from the Census record by default.  The user could mark it as Preferred if they wanted to, keep it as an Alternate Fact, or mark it for Discard.

The latest version of Family Tree Maker 2014 sets the default as "Discard" for Facts in the Web Merge for which there is already an entry.  If the user isn't careful, the Merge will not include the Alternate Fact.  Russ told me that the Source citation for the Alternate Fact would be retained and attached to the Preferred Fact - which is just WRONG!

Why would Family Tree Maker do this?  Some observers, including myself, have postulated that Ancestry wants to simplify information input and decision making for mobile users of the Ancestry.com app, which syncs with a user's Ancestry Member Tree and with a user's Family Tree Maker file.

Having Alternate Facts, or Names, in a family tree program can be very useful in order to perform critical analysis, correlate evidence, and resolve evidence conflicts for a specific research question.  Such activities are encouraged by professional genealogists who deal with these issues on a regular basis.  Russ Worthington has demonstrated the application and value of these principles in some of his YouTube videos working in Family Tree Maker on his FTMUser blog.  Each source contains bits of information that may be the same or different than the other Facts, and all bits of information needs to be considered when applying the Genealogical Proof Standard.  This is often called "evidence-based genealogy" rather than "conclusion-based genealogy."

Ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker should fix this Web Merge default issue quickly so that users will not lose valuable information.

The URL for this post is:  http://www.geneamusings.com/2015/08/family-tree-maker-2014-changes-web.html

Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver

Please comment on this post on the website by clicking the URL above and then the "Comments" link at the bottom of each post.  Or contact me by email at randy.seaver@gmail.com.


brian cook said...

Rather than making a change like this that isn't user adjustable, they should be educating the users who are complaining about having too many alternate facts. If the source doesn't support the fact then it shouldn't be attached to the fact. Simple.

My preference would be to include it as an option (although it really shouldn't). I have actually wanted for a long time to be able to adjust the parameters FTM uses when it considers whether it can discard a previous fact or not. It's annoying when it tries to discard a fact that only gives evidence of surname to attach the source to a full name.

I actually think the better way to deal with all the alternate facts is to have a drop down menu when merging facts to allow the user to attach the source to the appropriate alternate fact.

James Aylard said...

Randy, thank you so much for drawing attention to the troubling default web-merge behavior introduced very quietly into Family Tree Maker with this latest patch. I also appreciate that you noted the effect this may have on source citations that can easily become attached to facts which they do not support! That Ancestry may have introduced this behavior in response to user complaints about duplicate alternate facts may well be true, but the "fix" is so far afield from an acceptable correction of the behavior that it leaves a serious genealogist questioning whether this tool can still be trusted. Quirks and annoyances are one thing, and we all learn to work around those personality traits of the software we use. But a default behavior that is hostile to maintaining sound research is another matter entirely. And this latest patch is definitely in the second category.

James Aylard said...

@Brian Cook, I like your suggestion of providing a drop-down to select an existing alternate fact to which the new source can be attached (assuming it matches, of course). That would be an intelligent way for Ancestry to address the duplicate-fact problem.

Delbert Ritchhart said...

Randy: I really appreciate your article. I noticed the change a couple days ago when using the program; but though something was wrong with my software. We REALLY NEED TO ENCOURAGE ANCESTRY TO GO BACK TO THE PREVIOUS MODE! I intend to contact them today and hope others will do the same. TOTALLY UNSAT. . . . .Del

G. Spel said...


Randy, thank you so much for bringing this to the attention of your readers!

I spoke to an Ancestry corporate representative Aug 17 regarding this issue and she informed me that FTM developers implemented the change to the default Merge action in response to user complaints about accumulating too many alternate facts.
Ancestry will bring our concerns about the detrimental impact of setting data deletion as a default to the attention of the developers.

To insure that they will actually take some sort of rectifying action, we need to be just as vocal as the group of users who asked for the default deletion of alternate facts.

I urge all of your readers to call Ancestry Customer Support (1-800-Ancestry) ASAP to register their concerns and specifically ask for an immediate modification to FTM to make the default action of the Merge a user-selectable preference. This will allow the users who requested the change – who either don’t yet understand the purpose of alternate facts, or perhaps just don’t care - to set their Merge default to “discard”, and allow users focused on "evidence-based genealogy", as mentioned by Randy, to set their Merge default preference back to “alternate”.

There is a thread on the “Ancestry Member to Member Support Community” discussing this issue: http://ancestryforums.custhelp.com/posts/fd8f6a1f34?page=1. I hope your readers will join us there so we can keep this issue in the spotlight over at Ancestry.

James Aylard said...

Randy, after posting my previous comment, I watched Russ Worthington's before and after videos. I am very glad he made these videos, as they clearly depict the change in behavior caused by the patch. However, if you watch the "after" video, at the 7:00 minute mark, Russ inadvertently forgot to change the default "Discard" option to "Alternate" for a Birth fact, underscoring that even a serious genealogist, aware of the behavior of the patch, can get bitten by its ridiculous default behavior. As a result, Russ lost the new Birth information he intended to keep, but associated the source for that new information with his existing entry - even though the new source does not assert the information contained in the existing fact! You are right to call this new behavior "wrong" - it threatens the integrity of the data studiously gathered by even the most conscientious genealogist, no matter how careful that person is.

T said...

This last fix has sent me over the edge. I am ready to move to legacy software. I had abandoned the ancestry site after the redesign fiasco and was only using my 2014 software. I don't think I've updated any census since the patch but something I did the other night made me wonder what I was doing. So I quit. I'm afraid I will miss changing or not changing an option for something and mess up my whole tree. That is just not right. A company who takes my money in exchange for their product shouldn't change the rules two months later. I won't subscribe to ancestry again and I won't buy any software there again. If I continue buying DNA kits it will be somewhere else, probably Family Tree DNA. I'm stuck with that software for now but this is the end of ancestry for me.

G. Spel said...

@James Aylard
Re: your comment on how Russ missing a change from “default” to “alternate” in his “After” video intended to educate us about this change.

Exactly! As careful as Russ was, he still lost info he wanted to keep.

I have been exceedingly careful since the patch was released, tediously checking and rechecking my "discard" and "alternate" settings before pulling the trigger on a Merge and yet I still managed to miss one and ended up having all my sources for my alternate names consolidated under one name in a recent Census merge. And that was just the one I caught. How many times has this happened/will this happen again without me catching so I can correct it?

The insidious slow corruption of my research by the very tool that is supposed to be enabling my research...

G. Spel said...

@T: “A company who takes my money in exchange for their product shouldn't change the rules two months later.” Great statement!

Not only did they change the rules of how their software operates, they decimated the rules of sound genealogical research.

Please consider shooting your comments to Ancestry Customer Solutions (customersolutions@ancestry.com) and letting them know why you’re leaving - even if it’s just a cut and paste of this article’s URL and your comments.

I fear that if the only people within Ancestry that know about this is the software development team – this change will remain in place. The impact of this change also must come to the attention of the people who hold the purse strings and those who understand genealogy - and thus understand the potential for this to destroy Ancestry’s reputation as a legitimate genealogical tool.

G. Spel said...

@brian cook: You are so right in stating that this is a user education issue. (And that sources should never be attached to Facts they don’t support...)

Call me idealistic, but I believe that maintaining the mass appeal of one’s product and maintaining genealogical standards can indeed exist side by side.

There are myriad ways of non-obtrusively educating users within the software itself. Good for the user, good for genealogical standards, and particularly good for reducing calls to Customer Support.

A few obvious examples:

1. A “wizard” that steps users through the Merge – or any other feature – by default the first few times the feature is used, with a user-selectable option to turn the wizard on or off.

2. Presenting a pre-Merge summary that details the actions that will take place, and which requires user confirmation before finalizing he merge.

3. Or at a very minimum, how about something as simple context sensitive Help. Or the use of “Tool tips” that actually give a brief informative description of what will happen when you use a feature. Sadly, if you hover over the “discard” drop-down box now, the tool tip just says “discard”.

Finally, better yet, how about this: a well-reasoned reworking of the Merge feature under the oversight of seasoned genealogists experienced with FTM, that 1) incorporates intelligent Merge logic that reduces legitimate duplicates while at the same time insuring users’ Facts and sources adhere to genealogical standards and, that 2) incorporates user-assistance features so users will become educated through the mere act of using the software.

I could go on.

Sooo many ways that user education and an improvement in the ease of use of the software could be simultaneously accomplished rather than defaulting to the wholesale deletion of data.

Wayne Farmer said...

I totally agree with your concerns about the change in the default merge behavior, and will call Ancestry and make my feelings known. I just upgraded to Ancestry.com Full Access; maybe that will give my vote some more clout.

And thanks for verifying that using alternate facts with their own sources is the way to go. For the longest time while using Ancestry.com, during a merge I would place a check mark next to a fact only if I felt it had more information than the existing fact. The default being "Preferred", this also made the most precise fact the Preferred one. After realizing that many less specific sources were pointing to preferred facts, I changed my ways. Now I place the check mark next to every fact that's marked DIFFERENT, and then either leave the selection at Preferred, or change it to Alternate (which is the case most of the time). This makes for a lot of mouse clicking on a merge containing many individuals; I wish there was an option in my user profile to make the default Alternate, and one to automatically put a check mark by every fact that's different.

Is there a good reference containing good general practices for genealogists, such as the above handling of alternate facts and sources? I haven't found anything like that in the Ancestry documentation and tutorials yet, although now that I've got free access to Ancestry Academy, I may find it there.

-- Wayne Farmer (wdfarmer2)