Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trying Out FamilySearch's New Family Tree

Thanks to an incredibly helpful blogpost at Genealogy's Star, I learned how to gain access to FamilySearch's new Family Tree feature.  Eager to see what all the fuss is about, I immediately began exploring the how-to videos and then the feature itself.

My personal family tree

FamilySearch Family Tree allows you to build up your own personal family tree, much like Ancestry at first glance.  I'm not comfortable using this though, because it seems like the privacy offered by Ancestry is lacking here.  Although you cannot search for an individual who is marked as living on the Family Tree site, you can navigate to them and at the very least see their full name, date of birth, and birthplace if you search for and find a deceased relative of theirs.  So, if you enter this information into your own tree, it is not actually private.

Searching the new FamilySearch Family Tree

The search feature is what I'm most interested in because right now, I pay to see researched family trees that include my older French Canadian ancestors and help me piece together families.  While I intend to find the church records myself, it's nice to occasionally reference a guide in order to verify my findings or see if there are any facts I should double-check.  On my "American" side, I hope this tree can help me get past brick walls and fill my families in more fully.

I started by testing the information available via search.  I searched for Jean Bouffard and included his spouse, Marguerite Leportier, in the query.  They are my 8th great-grandparents.  I haven't yet looked into them because I believe they lived in Rouen, Normandy, France, which is where their son, Jacques, was born about 1655.  I got 6 "strong" hits back that appear to match, and a series of not-so-strong results, some of which also may match, but with mis- or alternate-spellings of Marguerite's last name.  The results for each match were as follows:

  • Born 1613. Married 1638. Two sons listed: Jacques and Martin, whose genders listed as unknown. No source citations.
    • Dates make sense, but I don't know where they come from.
  • Born about 1613 in Rouen. Baptised about 1615. Died and buried after 1655 in St. Martin, Rouen. Married first to Marie Laferriere about 1635 in St. Martin and had Jacques and Martin with her. Married Marguerite Leportier in 1639 in St. Martin. No source citations.
    • I have never come across this supposed first marriage before and found in my own research that Jacques and Martin are Marguerite Leportier's children. The dates and locations fit, but again, the reliability is in question.
  • Two other hits list no details about Jean other than he was married to Marguerite and had Jacques as a son. No source citations.
    • Martin is missing as a child.
  • One other hit lists no details about Jean other than he was married to Marguerite and had Martin as a son. No source citations.
    • Jacques is missing as a child.
  • The final "strong" hit lists no details about Jean and no children. No source citations.
As for the not-so-strong search results that seem to match:
  • Born about 1630 in Saint-Pierre, Île-d'Orléans, Québec. Married Marguerite Le Poithier about 1654 in Saint-Paul, Île-d'Orléans. Listed Jacques as a son. No source citations.
    • Jacques was actually married in Saint-Pierre, which is why I think this mistake was made. Jacques, however, I believe was born in Rouen. Therefore, his father wouldn't have been born in the New World. I also don't know where the information for birth and marriage years and the marriage location came from.  Marguerite's last name appears to be mispelled. Martin is missing as well.
  • Born about 1638 in Rouen. Married Marguerite Leperbier about 1658 in Rouen. No source citations. No children listed.
    • This may be another misspelling of Marguerite's last name.  Again, where are these years coming from? And where are the kids? Rouen would probably be correct.
For the sake of comparison, I then tried searching for my ancestors on my Irish/English side of the family. Despite trying numerous ancestors, I was unable to find a match until I searched for my 3rd great-grandmother's second husband's sister.  There were fewer duplicates, but otherwise the problems appeared consistent with those listed above.  Overall, there was a serious lack of information available, which can probably be attributed to a much smaller pool of descendants, and thus a smaller number of individuals researching those ancestors of mine.

Fixing the family tree

I first wanted to correct the gender of Jacques and Martin in one family listing.  They're males and should be listed as such.  Doing this was easy enough.  All I had to do was edit the gender through the child's individual page.  Note that FamilySearch won't allow you to do this if the person whose gender is incorrect is in a relationship indicating that the gender is correct (I guess it's taking into account the lack of same-sex marriages back in the day).

Next, I decided to examine the possibility of merges.  I had 8 matches for my ancester, Jean Bouffard.  Based on the listed relatives, locations, years, and my knowledge/the nature of French Canadian genealogy, I know these Jean Bouffards are the same person.  I clicked the first Jean that came up in my search results to see what I could do with him.  On the right-hand side of his detail page, I clicked "Possible Duplicates."  Only 3 out of my additional matches appear, so these are the only records I have the option of merging with my first match.  Because I have so little information on these particular ancestors, I opted NOT to merge them.  The process seems simple enough, with a "Review Merge" button for each potential match that brought me to a side-by-side comparison of the two entries with accept/reject fact options, similar to the side-by-side comparisons on Ancestry when you're adding a new source to a person on your Ancestry tree. I may play around with this feature later, as you can undo merges.


I've read on other blogs that duplicate people seem to be a problem on FamilySearch's new Family Tree.  Based on my search for Jean Bouffard and Marguerite Leportier, this would seem to be very true.  I think it would take an incredible amount of time and effort to eliminate the duplicates.

Furthermore, I'm concerned about the privacy issues related to living people added to the Family Tree.  I like being able to block any information about living people from being visible to the public.  The privacy of living (and recently deceased) persons is  incredibly important in this day and age.  If people want to put their own information online, then no one can stop them, but I worry about people who also put all of their living relatives on to build their tree.

I've worked so hard on my family trees on Ancestry that I feel like I don't want to redo it all through edits of the FamilySearch Family Tree.  My Ancestry trees are generally well-sourced; people just don't necessarily pay attention to them and will copy wrong information that's copied on ten other trees rather than look at my information and my sources.  While I want to share my information, I'm not sure that I want to put more work into it than I already am, especially if someone can just come along and undo what I've done.  Because this new Family Tree is completely edit-friendly, anyone can add to, change, or delete the information you put into it.  I'm more than willing to work things out with other researchers, but I'm afraid others may not be so willing.  I suppose that's more of a lack of faith in other people than in the site itself.

I think the new Family Tree needs a lot of work to fix the errors and duplicates.  Maybe the solution is to set aside an hour or two a week to working on FamilySearch so that I can contribute without feeling like I'm wasting time that could be spent finding more ancestors.  I think over time it will improve with everyone's contributions.   For now though, I don't think it's of much use because of all of the errors that need to be worked out.

For a detailed guide of how to use the FamilySearch Family Tree, see FamilySearch's official guide here.

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