Friday, November 22, 2013

Challenges of a Shared Ancestry Member Tree

I participated in a discussion yesterday which DearMYRTLE (Pat Richley-Erickson) moderated an Ancestry Member Trees: Practical Collaboration Tips Hangout On Air.  You can view it online or below (it's 31 minutes long):

This Hangout On Air above was done because Russ Worthington and I have two different "styles" of researching and adding content to genealogical software programs, and we had some problems while collaborating on an Ancestry Member Tree.

I am very much "Conclusion-based" and always have been. In other words, I pick the very best names, dates or places I can find for each event and often make that the only entry for each event.  I use the sources that support that date and/or place, and discard the other alternate events that have different dates and places.  Persons in my family tree (software and online) have many events with sources, but few alternate names or events that reflect the information in every source I've found to date.  For example, a Birth event would have the day-month-year date that was found in one or more sources, but there would not be alternate dates from other sources, like census or cemetery records.

Russ is very much "Evidence-based." He takes each source that he finds, extracts all of the names and events that he can find, and assigns one of each type of event as a "Preferred" event.  A Person in Russ's tree has several different alternate names (e.g., the names found in each source) and several different entries for events (e.g., a birth event might have several different year dates from census records or a cemetery record, and might include a day-month-year birth date from one or more sources).

The important thing here is not "what is the right way to do this" but "how do we sort this out so that we both benefit from the results."

During the Louis Burr Powell investigation (seCrowdSourcing Opportunity: When and Where did John Louis Powell Die? and succeeding posts), Russ started a Family Tree Maker 2014 file, and sent an early copy of it to me in Dropbox.  I started my own Family Tree Maker 2014 file from Russ's file, and proceeded with my research.  Russ proceeded with his research on this problem also, and synced his FTM 2014 to an Ancestry Member Tree.

Russ shared the Ancestry Member Tree that he started with me - he as the "Owner" and me as an "Editor" role.  As an "Editor," I can add content to it, but I cannot download it as a GEDCOM file or synchronize it to my Family Tree Maker 2014 file.

Several weeks ago, I went into the shared Ancestry Member Tree and noticed that Russ had the name of Louis Powell's wife as "Ethel _____".  I had found that her maiden name was Hall, so I went into the shared AMT and edited the name of "Ethel _____" to "Ethel Hall."  I also noticed that he had another marriage for Ethel that was incorrect, so I wrote a Comment on Ethel's profile page in the AMT telling him to change it.

When Russ next looked at his FTM 2014 database, he noticed that he needed to sync his file, which meant that something had changed in the AMT or his FTM 2014 database.  He did that.  When I made the comment in the AMT, he received an email from with the comment.

A problem occurred because the "Preferred" name of "Ethel _____" had a source citation attached to it - probably a census record.  Because I had changed the "Preferred" name to "Ethel Hall" in the AMT, the source information for that name entry did not match the name.  Russ discussed this in his blog post A couple of thoughts about Sharing / Collaborating with others on his Family Tree Maker User blog.  In that blog, Russ shows the "Please Read" "story" that he added to the "Tree Overview" page laying out his organizing practices and suggestions for dealing with changes to the tree.

This is what Russ and I discussed on the Hangout On Air - with help from Pat as facilitator.  We understand each other better now and can discuss the differences and challenges freely.

The problems with collaborating on a shared Ancestry Member Tree include:

*  One person is the "Owner" and is the only one who can download a GEDCOM file from or sync the AMT with Family Tree Maker 2014.  The "Editor" or "Contributor" or "Guest" cannot do either task.

*  If two people start from one FTM 2014 database and do independent research and data entry in two databases, there is no way to bring the two databases back together in a dynamic environment in one place.  A peer-to-peer synchronization would be the ideal - where information I add gets updated in Russ's tree, and information Russ adds gets updated in my tree.  

* The peer-to-peer synchronization ideal cannot yet be achieved - it requires a software program (online or resident on the computers) which does not exist yet.. The only way to do this at present is for one of us to send their database to the other via Dropbox, and then merge the two files, then share them back and sync the updated file to the Ancestry Member Tree.  Someone would have to deal with duplicate entries for names or events.  That seems very cumbersome to me.

It may be that collaboration of this sort could best be done in a "connected" online family tree like the FamilySearch Family Tree, using the "Discussions" feature to discuss problems and changes. The "Change Log" would keep track of who did what when in the person profile.  Sources, notes, and record images can be added to each person profile.  Changes could be made dynamically, and be reflected back to the other person in near real time.

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Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Cousin Russ said...


Excellent summary of our discussion and the Issues involved when we AMT users attempt to work on a common tree, not to mention the fact that we use different genealogy database management software on our computers.

Thank you for Hanging out with DearMYRTLE and I to talk about this topic.


James Tanner said...

Exactly my conclusion also. I just hope that the Family Tree works the way it appears it might. Thanks for an excellent discussion of how all this collaboration stuff should work.