Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More on About Family Tree Maker 2014 Web Merge Problem

One of the commenters on the post Family Tree Maker 2014 Changes Web Merge Default - Users Beware yesterday uses the name "Gene Spelunker."

1)  "Gene" also sent the letter below to yesterday about the Web Merge problem in Family Tree Maker 2014 that Discards alternate facts rather than retaining them when they provide alternative information (used with permission from "Gene"):

"I am contacting you in the hopes of bringing visibility to a critical issue created by the August 10 2015 'patch' to FTM 2014 that is actively deleting FTM customers’ data without their knowledge.

"This may sound like an exaggeration, but I assure you it is not.

"The aforementioned 'patch' changed FTM’s Merge feature – a feature central to FTM, the behaviour of which is second-nature to your customers over the years - to, by default, 'discard' alternate Facts and merge the supporting sources for those deleted items under a single preferred Fact - which those sources do not support.  As a result of this change to the default behaviour of the Merge, I can guarantee you that the majority of your FTM customers have yet to recognize that their data is now being deleted with every Merge.

"To illustrate, here's a snippet posted on Ancestry’s Support Forum August 18th by user 'Diane Jones':

" 'I hadn't really done much of anything in my tree since the dreaded patch was installed a few days ago. I did work on several people in my tree yesterday afternoon, and didn't really notice anything was amiss until I looked at the "facts" associated with someone I had just merged a census record with. Everything else was missing! I was horrified!... '  

"I encourage you to visit the thread on the Ancestry Support Forum at ( to read more customer feedback from the group of individuals who have become aware of the impact of this “patch”. 

"How is this happening?  As I’m sure you’re aware, it is a basic tenant of software that data is never deleted without an active initiating action by the user, and most often, without a secondary affirmation to a question such as 'Are you sure?'.  Your customers can assume that any software they are using follows these rules.  Therefore, the last thing your customers would expect is that Ancestry would buck these universal rules by implementing the deletion of data by default - and instead require user intervention to stop data from being deleted.

"This unfathomable change to the Merge behaviour that your customers are familiar with and depend upon was slipped into the latest 'patch' with a one line description in the patch notes (which – as I’m sure you’re aware – most customers do not read): 'When merging, changed default to discard duplicate facts (even when different) rather than keep as duplicate alternate facts'.     

"Ancestry is touting the new Ancestry Academy.  This is encouraging as it leads me to] believe that Ancestry cares about educating its customer base about genealogy and genealogical research standards.   Unfortunately, these great educational offerings are now actively being undermined by Ancestry’s own Family Tree Maker software as it, Merge by Merge, destroys years of your customers’ meticulous research, deleting their Facts and shuffling their sources.

"The FTM customer base who has become aware of this agrees that this change must be reversed immediately in order to stop the continuing destruction of FTM customers’ research that is currently happening without their knowledge. If there is a legitimate request for the automatic deletion of data not initiated by the customer, we strongly suggest this be a user selectable feature in FTM’s 'Preferences' section."

In my opinion, that is an excellent letter describing the problem, providing a solution, and urging that Ancestry revise their Web Merge process to retain the "Alternate" default decision.  

2)  In a comment on my earlier post, "Gene" said:

"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."

Don't and Family Tree Maker have staff genealogists on their software development teams that can caution against making unforced errors like this?   Or have a rigorous review process of updates or additions to the program?  Genealogists can find "alternate facts" for almost every assertion made in a record in an Ancestry database.  I hope that wiser heads (seasoned genealogists?) at Ancestry will strongly encourage the developers to change the default action back to "Alternate" in the Web Merge feature.

3)  Genealogists use these "alternate facts" to critically analyze, correlate with other information, resolve conflicts and come to a reasoned conclusion about an event.  

Here is a screen shot of a Web Search Merge request for an 1880 U.S. Census record for my great-grandfather, Frank Walton Seaver:

If I did not know better, and did not replace "Discard" with "Alternate" while keeping the "Keep sources" box checked, when I merged this record to add it to my great-grandfather's Facts list, the media and the source would have been added to the previously  "Preferred" name, birth date and birth place, and a "Residence" fact would be added to the Facts list (since there wasn't one).  The "Discard" means that Family Tree Maker 2014 would not retain the alternate Fact information, but would add the source citation and media to the "Preferred" Facts.  

Here is the screen after I intentionally merged the 1880 U.S. Census record with the Facts for my great-grandfather:

As you can see, the "Preferred" information was retained for the Birth Date and Place, along with the previous sources and media.  For the Name, the source and media for the merged record was attached to the "Preferred" name rather than the alternate name already in the FTM database.  

Thankfully, the original "Preferred" Name and birth date/place were not really discarded - only the "Alternate" Name and Fact were discarded.  But now the "Preferred Name" has a source that does not include the "Preferred" name or birth date/place, but has an "Alternate" name and birth date/place.  

If I select "Alternate" from the dropdown list, then an "Alternate" Fact would be added to the Fact list for the person, along with the appropriate source citation tagged to the "Alternate" Fact.  This is the proper way to merge records like this in Family Tree Maker 2014 and other genealogy software programs.  

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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


Unknown said...

This is only one of several arbitrary changes made by Ancestry to how we do our research. Mr. Seaver, you may also want to review the "new" Ancestry website, also full of arbitrary changes. Among other changes, Ancestry has actually interfered and added incorrect and inaccurate information to subsribers' family trees and modified subscribers' documents and photos to fit their idea of a "design"

Unknown said...

Here is a link to some subscribers' comments about "new" Ancestry. Interesting reading.

Unknown said...

A snippet of a comment I posted over at the Ancesty thread about this subject:

I realized that I left out a very important point in my letter - a point I should have led with - which is that this isn’t a customer support or software development issue. This isn’t about two groups of users arguing over how a Merge should work. This isn’t something that should have ever been left up to a programming staff to decide.

This is a corporate identity issue and a product direction issue.

Does Ancestry even care about genealogical standards?

Is Family Tree Maker a genealogical tool that will enable its users, regardless whether they are tech-savy pro genealogists or tech-wary first-timers, to create a well-sourced family tree that they can have confidence in? Or is Family Tree Maker purely for entertainment?

Anonymous said...

I agree - Ancestry is trying to be all things to all people. They need to choose a constituency - and hopefully train new genealogists rather than alienate experienced ones - before online trees become too polluted to be trusted.

Aylarja said...

Randy, thank you for continuing to shine a spotlight on Ancestry's decision to change the default FTM web-merge behavior in a way that is jaw-droppingly poor. I was the one who began the thread on Ancestry's forum (, and was frustrated to discover that a forum admin has closed the post to any additional comments, without any explanation. Gene has made excellent points on that thread, just as he did in his letter to Ancestry, which you have very helpfully reproduced here.

I was sorry to see another FTM user just post a question in Ancestry's FTM forum asking why a record he just updated using Ancestry's web merge is missing data. He included a couple of screen captures that graphically illustrate the destructiveness of this new post-patch behavior: This is what Ancestry now thinks our genealogical databases should look like, and it is a painful thing to see. In fact, it is unconscionable on Ancestry's part.

Elizabeth Handler said...

Thank you for the heads up. I use FTM for Mac and if/when I get an update (Mac updates come to users several months after Windows users), I will be on the lookout for this issue and be VERY CAREFUL if/when I initiate a merge from within FTM Mac.

Unknown said...

Has there been any update from Ancestry / FTM on this issue? It is simply not acceptable from them.