Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The most comprehensive guide for LDS people using New FamilySearch

Even though the LDS church is well known for promoting genealogy, and well-respected for it's contributions to the genealogy community, most members of the church don't do genealogy. Estimates range from 1-5% of LDS people are involved in Family History of some kind. Our company clientele confirm that statistic. Even though we are based in Utah, the headquarters of the LDS church, from what we can tell (we don't ask, nor care, of course) approximately 90-95% of our customers are not LDS.

The developers of the new FamilySearch Family Tree database are hoping to change that statistic in the members of the church. They are hoping that alot of new people will be trying out genealogy for the first time and that this database will make that easier for them. To help these newcomers to genealogy, the church has recently published a couple of new manuals for using the new database. They can be purchased here, here, and here, or downloaded here and here. They are--as to be expected, and as they should be--very general and mostly spiritual in nature.

(If you are not LDS, access to the new database as discussed earlier will be forthcoming shortly. I know what the projections are but I can't tell you--more of that 'under certified affiliate contract' stuff. It won't be long though.)

But, I have recently learned about another great resource for members of the LDS church who are looking to become involved in genealogy. When George Scott first approached me about reviewing his book I have to say I was skeptical--until I delved into this document. Then I went back and looked at his qualifications and he is probably one of the best people to write the book having extensively been a user of New FamilySearch and writing from that perspective. He has obviously done his research and not only could I not find anything wrong with what he put forward. I even learned a little. He has created the most comprehensive manual for dealing with new FamilySearch that I have seen in print. He didn't hold back--outlining every step for beginners, expressing his opinions (which I mostly agree with), warning of the pitfalls and criticizing where criticism was due. It is well worth a read if you are LDS. And I hope you follow his suggestions with regard to the database.

I have one main concern with the new genealogists that will be approaching this database. I am afraid that beginners will have a hard time distinguishing between real research (libraries, archives, real documents, primary sources) and derivatives/pointers to real research (databases and research of other people, aka NFS). After all, New FamilySearch Family Tree is the ultimate secondary source until the sources and documents are linked in. I am afraid new users will use the database as a sole repository for their research and consider what they find there a reliable source without checking. I think for many coming to this new database, the huge amounts of data will be overwhelming. And I hope they can approach it carefully.

George put it extremely well.
"Generally it is best to stay within the bounds of your own research and allow the researchers who submitted the records for earlier centuries to clean those records" (pg 16)
He further explains:
"You have millions of ancestors. Even if you just go back to the year 1500, you may have 100,000 members of your ancestral families. If you spent night and day for your entire mortal life performing genealogical research, you could never build your entire family tree alone. So define your niche, and let PAF chronicle your niche. [He hadn't gotten to talking about certified affiliates yet]. Then, let New FamilySearch serve as a superstructure over your niche, expanding the family tree beyond the bounds of your personal research" [emphasis mine.]
Well said.

He also called it right on the certified software:
"The third-party software firms advertise that you can combine New FamilySearch records and separate New FamilySearch records using their software. Please do not do so at this time... you generally can not see as much information as you can when you are working directly in New FamilySearch. When you see less information, you make a less-educated decision. (In the future this will likely change, as the third-party vendors continue to expand the features of their programs.)"

He advocates combining records first in New FamilySearch and then syncing the data you have researched using certified software. He convinced me he is right--for the time being. The API that the software is using to talk to the database doesn't allow syncing of sources and only allows 300 characters on the notes (until the first of next year). Most of them have holes in what they show you while you are trying to sync (like the contributors, notes and sources, relationships, details and etc.) While the software is great for keeping track of what is going on in the database with the people you are working on, the developers and the API have more to do before everything is working perfectly. It's coming. It will be better the first of next year. It just isn't there yet.

George gives wonderful suggestions on how to decide whether to combine or dispute information (pg 19 or so). And I really appreciated his plea for civility and using the golden rule in collaborating with other people on the database (pgs 7-8, 39-41). At first I thought his step by step process was a little turned around, but as he walked me through it, I was convinced he had the process right. I wish he had spent a little time talking about the difference in good and bad sources/research and going back to the original source (my clarion call on the subject) but that wasn't really what he was trying to do here. He talks about "your research" and "the database" but doesn't really distinguish what "your research" is. I think a discussion on good research would help. And he had some interesting (albeit kind of sidetracked IMHO) stuff at the beginning about we really are all related to each other and the Most Recent Common Ancestor studies that have been done.

I have three criticisms though. The biggest one is that he suggests standardizing all the names of places in your file before syncing the data. You will lose some of the fine points (such as farm names and cemeteries) in your geographical data if you do that. That is the perfect example of why you should use certified software and what could be left in your personal files and not synced with the database. Secondly, he calls the pedigree interface on NFS a "fan chart" (pg 13). Only the Chart Chick would argue with that one. This is a fan chart, the NFS interface is a left to right hourglass chart. And third, Generation Maps charts should have been added to chapter 9 "A Perfect, Inexpensive, Christmas Gift." :-)

Whether you are new to genealogy or not, his new Appendix "E" is a must read about how to resolve major problems in New FamilySearch--such as wrong gender, incorrect relationships, loops and quarantines. If you are LDS and looking to try out or teach the New FamilySearch database, this book is well worth a look.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this information. As someone who is heavily involved with teaching new users how to work with NFS, I appreciate any new ideas that are out there. I totally agree with your comments and concerns, especially the one about standardized names of places. NFS certainly doesn't always take into account historical place/area names. And you aren't the only one that would argue about the 'fan chart' ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review of my manual. It has been received very well; I posted it to the internet a month ago, and already 2,500 LDS genealogists have downloaded it (for free). Several family history center directors wrote me to say they are using it in their family history centers.
As for the standardization of place names, I have expanded the discussion to address your concern.
The major benefit to the manual is that it helps people map out a strategy to effectively and efficiently clean their family tree on New FamilySearch. It also provides lots of tips to save time and frustration.
George Scott