Monday, May 16, 2011

The New FamilySearch Family Tree - Post 2: Searching for Ancestors

In my previous post in this series, The New FamilySearch Family Tree - Post 1: I Have Access, I described some of the educational opportunites for researchers to learn ab0out the New FamilySearch Family Tree - an online inter-connected family tree that is currently open to all LDS church members and some non-LDS church members, including myself.

In this post, I want to go Searching for some of my ancestors to see what is in the existing family tree.

I'll start with logging into the system at

I entered my userID and password, and clicked on "Sign In" and saw:

This welcome screen gives me four options in the tabs - "Home," "Me and My Ancestors," "Search," and "Add New Information."  The links below the menu include all of those, plus "Whats New in FamilySearch," "Learn How to Use FamilySearch,"  "Update My Profile and Preferences," and "Help Center."

I wanted to Search for my grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents in the existing New FamilySearch Family Tree.  My grandparents had no search matches, but there were several entries for two sets of my great-grandparents.  However, the information was very sparase and had either no dates and locations or they were wrong.

I usually use my great-great-grandfather, Isaac Seaver as my "test case" for online family trees, so I'll do that here.  He was born in 1823 in Westminster, Mass. to parents Benjamin and Abigail (Seaver) Gates, died in 1901 in Leominster, Mass., married (1) Juliet Glazier in 1847, (2) Lucretia Townsend Smith in 1851, and (3) Alvina Matilda (Bradley) Lewis in 1888.

I clicked on the "Search" tab in the screen above, and received this screen:

I clicked on the "Advanced Search" screen to see what it included, as shown above.  The only difference between the "Basic Search" and "Advanced Search" is the addition of "Exact search" check boxes to every search field, and a "Match all terms exactly" match (all shown above).  The default screen is for "Multiple name field" (shown above), and the other choice is "Single name field" (which has no advanced search feature).

I entered "Given name" = "Isaac" and "Last name" = "Seaver" and "Event" = "Birth" and "Event Date" = "1823" (shown in screen above).  I did not select any "Exact match" boxes because I  wanted to see what possible matches there might be in the database.

Here is the first page of results (two screens):

There were 10 "Close Matches," which match the names (not exactly) and the event date within plus or minus 5 years.  You can see the information about each person on the list by clicking on the underlined name or the "Get Info" blue button to the left of the index entry. 

Of those 10 close matches, my Isaac Seaver is:

*  The first match (five stars)  is for Isaac Seaver, born 1823 Westminster, Mass., died 1 July 1870, Westminster Mass., spouse Abigail Gates, parents Benjamin Seaver and Abigail Gates.  His "Person Identifier" number is LWL3-LN4.  Hmm, that's not an "exact match."  The birth date is correct (but not exactly right), the birth place is correct (but not in standard format), the death date and death place are not correct, the spouse is not correct, but the parents are correct.

*  The second match (four stars) is for Isaac Seaver, born about 1824 in Westminster, Mass.  The birth date is approximately correct, and the birth place is correct.  No other data is provided.  His "Person Identifier" number is KDSC-2TY. 

*  Matches 3 through 10 of the "Close matches" are not my Isaac Seaver, and all of them have different "Person Identifier" numbers.

There are 7,869 "Possible Matches" on the screen (there are 20 matches per screen).  Of those on the first page, there are three that are my Isaac Seaver:

*  Match 3 (three stars) is Isaac Seaver with spouse Juliet Glazier, and no other information.

*  Match 9 (three stars) is Isaac Seaver with spouse Lucretia T., and no other information.

*  Match 10 (three stars) is Isaac Seaver with spouse Lucretia, and no other information.

On the next "Close Matches" page, there is one more match:

*  Match 18 (three stars) is Isaac III Seaver with spouse Lucretia, and no other information.

It appears that there are at least six entries for my Isaac Seaver in the New FamilySearch Family Tree.  None of them have the correct birth, marriage or death data for Isaac Seaver, although there are some entries that are correct.  The one entry with a death date is wrong, and that entry has a wrong spouse (the person named is actually Isaac's mother!).

It's painfully obvious to me that none of Isaac Seaver's descendants are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!  If someone had been, they would have found every birth, marriage and death record for Isaac Seaver because they are all available in free or subscription online websites.  The birth and first marriage are in Massachusetts Vital Record books.  The other two marriages and his death are in the Massachusetts Vital Record Indexes, 1841-1910 available on microfilm or at NEHGS. 

Some questions:

*  How did all of these entries occur?

*  How do we merge the different entries into an entry with documented and sourced information? 

*  How does someone with the correct information for my great-great-grandfather fix the erroneous data? 

 I'm not exactly sure of the answers yet, but we'll go look at some of the details to the first question in the next post. 

Please note that I did not "cherry-pick" this example.  I chose the person that I usually choose to look in online family trees, because there are enough birth, marriage, death, census, and military records to find him in any online family tree and many genealogy database collections.  This example sure shows up the "duplication problem" in the New FamilySearch Family Tree.   

The information about the New FamilySearch Family Tree says that the goal of FamilySearch is to be the very best online family tree there is.  I sincerely hope that it becomes that.  It's going to take time, however, and we all need to practice patience with it. 

I'm not trying to embarrass FamilySearch here.  I'm trying to understand this online family tree, and to show my readers some of the navigation processes and results that result from a Search of the tree.  FamilySearch  said they wanted feedback from me in their email, and they will receive it, more or less in real time.

If knowledgeable readers want to make comments to this post, or email me privately (, or write their own blog post about this, please feel free.  If you write comments on the blog, or email me, I would like to publish your responses, but will keep your name confidential if you desire.


Miles Meyer said...

Hey Randy, glad to see you joining us in the nFS website. As you noted, there is a lot of content that is incomplete or just plain wrong. It has to do with everyone who has contributed data to all the programs that the Church has been working on for many years. The IGI and AF files are in there with all their mistakes, as well as many other sources of information. Some of us have been working in our nFS trees since 2007 and have been trying to make sure that the data is as correct as possible. The good part of nFS is that you can add differing information (corrections) once you have merged the records for an individual. Then in the Summary screen you can select that corrected data as what shows for the individual. We still have problems with other "researchers" changing the data that is shown but what you contribute will always be there unless you delete it. This is definately a work in progress and some people who use it will get frustrated but we hope everyone takes the time to attempt to make it as correct a record as they possibly can. Good luck in your travels through nFS and don't get too caught up in the details yet. Things will soon be changing, they always do.

JL said...

I've been working with the new FamilySearch since getting my account access recently and I believe all your questions have answers.

First, I think the multiple entries are a compilation of everything FamilySearch has collected from the beginning of time, including entries submitted by people who are/were likely distant relatives of your closer ones so they didn't know as much as you.

You can add your own versions of the data, called "New Opinion" and then mark your opinion as the correct one. (Someone else may come in and change that. Just like real life - arguments over opinions.) All the opinions are kept in the database.

You can also source the information you add. If you make your email address public in your profile, people can contact you for discussion or you can start online discussions. You can also contact the submitters of the information that conflicts with yours and ask for their sources.

I've also been working from the Legacy Family Tree side of things that is automatically integrated. So far, going through merging duplicates. Or marking them Not the same, or Not Sure. Hmmm. Now I'm wondering what happens when someone else disagrees with my merging. Anyway, great fun and endlessly time-consuming.

Shane said...

Do you compare this favorably to

Jennifer said...

A very fair assessment Randy. I would imagine that any attempt to assemble a world tree would have these sorts of issues. I doubt anyone is surprised. It's a huge undertaking that will be fraught with challenges, but how cool if it can come together in the end.

David Newton said...

A lot of the duplicate information comes from the IGI, and not just the nonsense that a lot of LDS members submitted for temple ordnances. There is plenty of duplicate information from IGI extraction projects as well.

For example looking at one of my 5 greats grandfathers I immediately saw five versions of him and his wife and one of his many children that were clearly from an extraction batch in the IGI. I merged those straight into the main entry for him.

The biggest problem from NFS has is its source management. There is no central database of sources and no way to cite a source other than to manually type things in each time. That soon loses its fun.

The most difficult balancing act that NFS has to get right is to stop newbies entering a bunch of garbage and duplicates into the system whilst also allowing experienced and competent genealogists to quickly add to the tree. I don't envy the person who has that problem on their plate