Spring Pruning Our Family Search Family Tree

My first attempt at a title for this post included a very naughty word: “My.” You see, this is the biggest obstacle when adding info to the Family Search Family Tree. It is one tree, and we are all a part of its branches – transforming “my tree” to “our tree”. I admit that this concept scared me to my core – and honestly, after using it for five years now, it can still send me into a hyperventilating tailspin when fellow gardeners start pruning or reshaping one of the family branches. But I’ve finally come to terms with this concept, and find that I keep going back to it – drawing me like a video game, of sorts – which can sometimes feel more like whack-a-mole.

After half of a decade, here’s what I’ve learned and why I feel those of us with advanced genealogical skills should be embracing this “one world tree” concept.

My initial purpose in joining this tree:

I first started dabbling with this tree because it was new, and I do love playing with new genealogy toys. As the trees were already connected to Family Search records, I thought it might be a nice genealogy sandbox. I will also be honest about the initial draw – knowing that Family Search servers and the granite mountain would be preserving the information added to the tree, I viewed this as a tool of genealogy insurance. If everything went kaboom tomorrow, including my house and my gedcom, perhaps this remnant would remain?

But then again, how would it remain? After 5 more years, after 10 years, 20 years from now – what would my information look like? I know this is the most alarming part of a one world tree concept. My guilty secret is that I still maintain a personal tree at home sourced with my research – But as the FS tree grows, and implements easy to access tools, I find myself grabbing the FS tree app on my phone when I want to show something to a family member, or just refresh my memory as to a particular branch. So, it’s like a research worm….curling its way into my permanent genealogical consciousness.

For all Intents and Purposes:

My initial, self-imposed limitations, allowed the maintenance of only a few generations. I was surprised to find that my great grandparents were not in this tree, with very limited information about the generations immediately past them. So, I figured it was my duty to fill in some of the research I already had on hand, as well as share some of the older photographs I had of the family – only one or two for identification – I wasn’t going to go crazy with this tree, nor add the whole kit and kaboodle of family gems – those are going into a book someday – and sent to libraries to meet my own comfort level of permanence.

First word of caution with a tip: I would never have guessed in a million years that someone would try to remove or move one of the images that I had added – but sure enough, the shocking moment happened when I got the notification that someone had removed and moved a photo that I had uploaded to my ancestor! I went racing to the page, only to discover that everything was fine – when you get a notification that someone has changed something on your tree – DO NOT rush over and act in furry or haste! Be careful, and look closely at the changes, because FS notifies you for ANY changes to the ancestor profiles you choose to put on your watch list – which includes movements forward and backward.

To illustrate – back to the photo image switch – the person who had removed the image, only removed the attachment of the photo – attributing it to someone else. Sounds horrifying, no? But when I looked closely, the photo was repeated in the list of changes, among others that reversed some of the previous actions. Upon inspection, clearly someone was trying to attach a child, and remove a duplicate couple, and since that process has quite a learning curve, the person was trying to correct the slip that had been made when he/she detached or deleted the wrong person!

In the end, things were just fine, but it made me realize that I needed to spend some extra time and watermark the ancestral photos that were held in my personal collection. Once you upload a photo, people can move them around, but from now on, I will add a watermark that identifies the ancestor, as well as the current owner of the original (maybe not my full name, but initials and surname, or some such configuration – and maybe not a label that can be trimmed off.) Also, add a note as you upload to go with the photo – listing you as the owner, or where you got the copy. It’s the least we can do as an attempt to keep the right photo with the right person.

Plus, I cannot emphasize this enough – take time to learn the ins and outs of the merging, deleting, and detaching processes – for all of our sakes – PLEASE!!! There are loads of YouTube videos out there to help (including a whole channel by Family Search!) – just be sure to watch the most current editions as the specific instructions have changed a bit – we all need to make sure we are doing it right, so we don’t contribute to the problem!

Spring Cleaning/Pruning is a MUST:

I admit that the duplicate entries made me shake my head – it was like Ancestry zombie tree clones all over again, but with even worse variations based on crazy transcriptions in the system (I’ll get to that in a minute) or just terrible “research” – and it was driving me crazy because I would run into this issue quite a bit – as would others working on some of the same lines. Then it finally hit me – the “Possible Duplicates” link is your friend! I was running into duplicates as I attached new sources, added new children, parents, or a new spouse, and it was so confusing to detach or attach existing folk. You can REALLY help the tree a lot if you periodically go in to prune off or merge existing duplicates. By doing this proactively, you help to ensure that the tree grows as a tree and not a bush!

You might be thinking: “Hey – that’s no problem as I’ve already hit that wall and fixed it – removing/merging all my duplicates”: Ummmm, not so fast. The reason you need to periodically go through and prune/merge duplicates is because new ones can show up as new records are added to FS. I recently discovered a duplicate that I was not aware of previously. It came up as I was working on a German couple that had no duplicates. This is a really unique surname and I had been the only one working on this branch – until a new record came up as a hint from FS – I eagerly went to attach the record to my couple, and found it was already attached to a couple whose names were similar, yet not identical – resembling something of a phonetic perversion that was very odd – seemingly related to how the record was transcribed. I clicked on them to learn more about this couple and their lineage – but I quickly hit a dead end. When I clicked one of their individual profiles, and then hit “tree” I found that there was no one attached to them at all – they were floaters with no connections. So, I looked at their history, to identify the original creator, and it was FS Admin! I’m assuming this is a function of newly added records – they were putting a family unit in the tree section as a new record was made available in order to find the family connections (this was a baptism identifying a family unit) – not sure if this was made by a bot of sorts (computer generated), or a real person, but it made me confident in my next changes.

I then headed back to my couple to remove these duplicates prior to attaching that newly found record. CAUTION: When I went back to my couple, and clicked on “Possible Duplicates” that phantom floating couple did NOT appear in the list. Sigh – so I had to go all the way back to the record, take note of the individual profile numbers, and search for the duplicates that way – it worked, but what rigmarole! BTW, so what did I type into the box that requires an explanation for a deletion? Verbatim: “This couple appears to be a FS added couple based on one document with no known family connections – I am that family, and I’m welcoming them home as they are already on my tree.”

With the potential for many other floating family units to appear out there over time – you may want to make your life easier and check the individual lines in your branch of the tree for new duplicate possibilities – in other words, keep the shears handy for spot check pruning.

With all of the above – why should I invest my time and resources into this Family Tree?

For a few reasons:

  1. It’s an open tree that people can see, use, and share with no membership needed. I can easily share this with my family, and not worry about what might be locked later if someone doesn’t pay a membership. (I’m talking about down the road – not current viewable Ancestry Trees.)
  2. As much as my family’s involvement might result in us getting mad over the changes – I’m confident the collaboration will be great in the end (because I KNOW they have some family info that I don’t – and their input will help build a more complete ancestor story) – plus, I think we all live far enough apart that murder will not be a viable option for dispute resolution – just a genealogy joke, folks!
  3. With the new tools that FS is implementing for story/memory collection – this could soon evolve into a very dynamic place for preserving and sharing the family story.
  4. One of the major draws for me is that easy integration with the FS documents – those sources get pulled in and attached with a few clicks, and it makes sourcing information like a video game – fun, serves the purpose, and doesn’t strain my eyes as I make sure there is a comma or period in the correct places – but I’m still careful to make sure it belongs to the right people – after all, a hint is not a given match.
  5. And BTW, I have played with WikiTree as an alternative, but the screen layout just never stuck with me – plus, the ease of connecting actual records in FS hooked me like a duck on a junebug.
How Advanced Genealogists can make this a better tree – Our Responsibility:

Lately, I’ve heard genealogists of varying degrees of experience throw their hands up and reject the one world tree concept. Don’t get me wrong – if I had a dime for every time I got mad and said “That’s it! I’m done! I’ve had it with this thing – If everyone can come in and just changes my work, what is the point??!!!” I’d be a wealthy woman.

But fundamentally, I think we’re getting it a bit wrong. If most genealogists of significant caliber abandon this format, you know who builds the one world tree? Potentially, those who lack the necessary skills to create a valid tree – and yet this tree is preserved and lasts for many generations – Is that really what we want? If we don’t get into the sandbox with the other kids, who know what will be built with the genealogy blocks? And just to be clear, while we abandon the format and stick to our private trees only, this community tree is taking shape and continuing to grow without our input and while we look the other way.
I have also come to the realization that more is more where these trees are concerned. The more information you feed into an ancestor profile: life sketch, memories, etc. – the more solid the profile becomes. And when you change something, put in a good reason, don’t skimp on the reasons – use them as teaching tools for those who come along later. Also, don’t be afraid to change something back if you have a very good reason. Recently, my great grandfather, Albert Pace had his name changed in the FS Tree because someone had added the nickname “Prince” to his given name. The person who came along to take away this nickname was unrecognized by me, but while I thought the change was fine, they also went to the “Alternative Name” section and removed “Prince Albert” from this lower area. Since this person then proceeded to fill out a lot of information about the first marriage and the child born to that union (I’m a descendant of the second marriage), I’m assuming that is the side of the family from which they hail. So, instead of playing tit for tat, I went back and added “Prince Albert Pace” in the alternative name block with a note that said: “Reason This Information Is Correct – All of his children from the second marriage referred to Albert as “Prince Albert” – all of their descendants refer to him as such. I’m assuming this was his local nickname, with no information as to its origins. Please DO NOT remove this as it is a significant identifier from his direct descendants and an important part of his identity on a local and familial level.”

Moral of the story – Beef up the profiles, be kind, but be thorough, and don’t be afraid to communicate why you would like an element to stay. Collaboration is a GOOD THING! So far, people have been relatively nice about things if you reasonably explain the source behind a piece of information. Although, I have been tough on some lines, and chopped off a branch that ran wild with completely unsourced info – I detached with a notice that said “Please do not add parents of this person without citing a source – there are many theories out there, but no proof has been yet uncovered.” It’s a wonderful PSA to remind people about citing sources and the GPS – even if it is one little message at a time.

NOTE: We have a lot of work to do! There have been so many weird changes out there that the clean-up could be pretty intense, depending on your branch of the family tree. And yes, I know, some of them have run wild like a bramble bush that stretches all the way back to Adam and Eve – but if we don’t get involved and bring along the pruning shears, it’s like a genealogy villain (misinformation) terrorizing a village with no superheroes to combat their dirty deeds. Just like indexing, I think we have a responsibility to dive headlong into the forest and make it a better place – with a myriad of opportunities to educate about resources as we go along.

OK – Everyone, go get your cape, shears, (and goggles for the mess) – we’re going in!

Thanks for reading and happy pruning!

The Online MYTH: Researching in Tandem for Best Results

I am writing this post with gritted teeth and a fake smile upon my lips – retaining a professional demeanor in the face of such a dangerous fallacy can be almost impossible. But I promised you undiluted genealogy – and here comes test case number 1! Quick – go get a cup of tea before reading further!

Just this morning, on Facebook – the disseminator of both good and evil genealogy advice – a woman was asking for research location tips from her fellow genealogical researchers. As several gave her great insights, one person declared that:

“So many Kentucky records are online that it is rarely necessary to do onsite research anymore.”

She then proceeded to list about 3 wonderful online repositories….which was helpful, in a way….but with no cautionary caveats.

Two of the three online resources she shared should have come with cautions: The first one links to an aggregated collection of digitized items from around the state, including maps and newspapers – but what she doesn’t know, is that this site is in limbo, and most early participants no longer share digitization efforts on this site – most have created their own online portals for digitized records. The other site is a go-to for land records, and I recommend this one to researchers all the time – but caution that state budget cuts hit them hard, and digitization efforts had to stop short of the entire collection – some onsite visits would be necessary to access any records past a certain year.

Now, I understand that the standard researcher will not have knowledge of these limitations – but the overall impression of digitized record repositories containing complete collections, thereby eliminating a need for onsite research is FALSE!! FICTION!!! JUST PLAIN WRONG!! In fact, DANGEROUSLY WRONG!!

Why dangerous? Because the libraries and archives that contain our history operate on funding – local, state, or federal funding. What happens when the visitation numbers go down to a point that makes the keepers of the funds question their allocation that year? They cut, and they cut some more….and they hear local/national statements about everything being online, and they cut further…until access or existence is in extreme danger.

I was recently told a scary story (just in time for Halloween) about the construction of a new county courthouse – the locals in charge of building said courthouse, decided to opt for a closet sized research table to access records, because “No one conducts onsite research anymore – it’s all available on Ancestry!”

How do we stop this madness?

You MUST conduct your research using a tandem approach – and abandon the research vacuum of online only records!

1. PLEASE stop perpetuating the myth of online-only access. Just think about statistical probabilities alone – they are staggering. Since we’ve only been digitizing things for about the past 10-15 years (larger institutions), only a tiny portion has been digitized. And so many smaller institutions are not digitizing at all because of low staffing, technology and budget constraints. The libraries and archives of the world maintain huge collections of local records and family records – primary sources that can obliterate your brick wall! But if we encourage others to research in both places – online AND onsite, budgets grow, and online access continues to grow….otherwise, with the demise of research repositories because of a myth, we run the risk of endangering the existence of our history – and stopping the digitization efforts! Trust me, the digitization budgets are connected to the libraries and archives – you cannot have one without the other.

2. Run tandem research all the time – begin with online sources (images of primary sources hosted on main sites, such as Ancestry and Family Search) – noting the original location of these records. After building your research foundations with the wonderful digitized documents available to us, move to other online resources. Take a virtual tour of the libraries and archives of your state, region, and county of focus. Comb their websites and online catalogs to see what they have – look for several things: catalogs that list many of their items AND separate links that house archival finding aids or any digitization efforts they may be running. Remember: Even catalogs have limitations, and may not contain a list of EVERYTHING in their collection. Also, smaller county historical/genealogical societies may not have a website at all, or if they do, they may only list their location – not a list of what they have. Personal contact would be necessary in this instance.

General Stacks section of the Martin F. Schmidt Research Library at the Kentucky Historical Society

3. Head out on the road! Now that you have a research plan as to the locations and collections you want to see, you will be much more successful in your results. Be ready to experience some amazing bonuses along the way! By visiting the area of your ancestral home, you will gain an understanding that is unparalleled. You see the geography, breathe the air, and talk with the people of your homeland. Contextual knowledge of your ancestral community is a vital part to understanding your ancestors. Plus, your visit, though a tad costly, helps maintain the existence of these storehouses of history and information.
In short – always think of research as a multi-dimensional process. We are fortunate enough to have wonderful records at the tip of our fingers via super digitization efforts of many – but our research should NEVER stop there! Our storehouses of history contain the family records we need: Bible records, genealogy research files, correspondence, diaries, photos, school and Church records, etc. A fundamental principle of the Genealogical Proof Standard is “conducting a reasonably exhaustive search” – NEWSFLASH – online only research is NEVER a reasonably exhaustive search!

Great, now I need another cup of tea – and it’s only Monday!
Cheri Daniels, MSLS
The Genealogy Librarian