Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Ultimate Family Tree


Recently +Dick Eastman reported that Family Tree by is now live and available to all users.

As you likely know, FamilySearch is a free website that is packed full of genealogical information. Now they offer us something new.

Usher in the Family Tree. Previously only available to members of the LDS Church, this project will result in one tree – for free! Any given person should only be found on the tree once (ideally, where they belong).

After taking a look at the Family Tree, it is clear that this is going to be an enormous undertaking. At this time there is no way to upload data to the Tree – all information must be input manually. But the interface isn’t complicated – it’s simply a matter of inputting the vital information of your ancestor; a quick search is then performed to see if they already exist; if they do, you select them, if not you add them – and presto! There you have it. A search can then be conducted to check for duplicates, which are reviewed and merged by the user.

The one thing that does concern me is a seemingly utter lack of control. Anyone can manipulate and change the data. There is an option to view a history of changes, so the information is still there. There’s also a place to cite sources, but those can easily be deleted as well.

Take, for example, the case of my great great grandfather, Jonathan Russ. He died in 1863 at Fort Delaware after being taken prisoner at the Battle of Gettysburg. This has been verified by the Veteran’s Administration and the National Cemetery Administration; there was only one Confederate soldier matching his statistics. The 1870 census shows his wife as having five children – two of whom were born after his death. So, his death date on Family Tree has been set to a date that would fit with these births – even though the evidence is clearly indicates otherwise. Will sources be enough for someone who doesn't want to believe them?

With no control, will this situation be what we can expect? Only time will tell. A unified family tree certainly seems to be a lofty goal – but it’s likely one that the LDS, with their years of experience – can reach. is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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