Family Search Family Tree

I had always been hesitant to share my family history research because I didn't want it appearing on for-profit websites where it is then sold to others. I also question sometimes whether what I have seen on those sites is a rehash of what I gave to a relative and has been passed around, or did someone do the same research and verify that the facts I recorded are valid. The inclusion of sources is lacking.

Since Family Search is not-for-profit and has helped me conduct my research over the years, I decided to share my family tree on their site. Since I had over a thousand persons to enter, I thought the fastest way to enter them was via a GEDCOM file that I uploaded. Only individuals known to be deceased were imported-- so most of the family was not imported. Those who are imported are checked for possible matches with persons already entered in the FHC database and you are given an opportunity to accept a match or reject it and create a new person. A lot of individuals did not have matches. It was tedious to create the new person, in part, because the list of unmatched persons was not in any noticeable order to keep families together. So while it didn't seem like uploading a GEDCOM made it any easier, I suppose it was better than typing all those names and dates again.

One of the things that delights me is that entries are checked against all the Family History Center (FHC) databases. If a match is found, you can attach that source to the person's record fairly easily thus documenting your research. Ordinarily we search by a surname and correct spelling is important. But we know that some people are "lost" when there is a typo or error in reading the names when compiling a database. Instead of relying strictly on the surname, the FHC system uses multiple criteria to find "matches". For example, someone may be matched with their parents, their spouse, and/or the dates of birth or death in a loose way (that is, not an exact match). Many records were found that otherwise would have been lost because the Polish names were butchered almost beyond recognition when indexed. Ideally I'd like to learn facts that I never knew before about an ancestor when I enter their names. It frequently works the other way around-- the facts I already know help locate documents that were indexed using bad spellings.

Anyone can add or edit data in the tree. This promotes collaboration. The upside is that you can get more detail by pooling your collective knowledge of family. I have heard complaints from researchers at my local FHC who have created "perfect" trees with all the correct information and then someone messes it up by making changes. That's the downside. You are advised to always keep a backup copy of your "perfect" tree on your own personal computer in case that happens. The quality of the research can sometimes leave a bit to be desired. For example it's not very helpful when someone enters as grandparents, Mr. Kowalski and his wife, Mrs. Kowalski-- facts of dubious value. There also seems to be a lot of reliance on census records for documenting family. If a census record is all you have, then use it. But if you can find a birth certificate which would contain a complete date and parents names, that is usually a better (more reliable) record than a census (since it was created closer to the time of the birth). Here I am saying that one needs to critically evaluate the quality of the sources and the data they provide. For example, a birth certificate probably has more reliable information than what has been passed down orally.

The FHC system is pretty good about taking into account some variations in names like Franciszek, Franz, Frank, Francis, or Franciscus but you might want to try nicknames as well. For example, someone named Wladyslawa had a couple of document sources returned but because she went by Lottie, more documents came up when Lottie was added. This also raises the issue of which given name variation should be used when adding them to the family tree. If you look at the sources, you may see several variations (even among those spelled correctly).

If you are doing detailed research on a person, be sure to look at the sources. In most instances you are looking at a transcript but in other instances you can actually bring up the image of the record itself. Sometimes the transcript is flawed due to misspellings but the image shows the correct name. Evaluate the credibility of sources. As noted before, a census record might not be as accurate as a birth certificate. There are some facts in the record that maybe did not get indexed or attached to the ancestor. Don't miss out on these additional clues. Where sources conflict with one another on factual content, you may need to evaluate which source is more accurate or maybe even decide the source was attached to someone in error. I was attempting to attach a census record to a family member but I couldn't because someone already attached it to their family. While the surname was the same, the record was not for their family. The bigger problem was that the census record was used to add children to their family who were not members of their family!