3 Reasons Not to Use FamilySearch Family Tree

FAN chart on FamilySearch "3 Reasons Not to Use FamilySearch" overlay

If I had the rights to make a sidebar banner without fear of copyright infringement, I would make one that had the FamilySearch logo and the words “FamilySearch Fan Girl” below it. In fact, I would enthusiastically wear the same banner design on a shirt. Despite how much I appreciate this online collaborative family tree, I often hear three major reasons why my friends and associates do not want to use FamilySearch Family Trees.  

  1. The FamilySearch Family Tree is too tangled.
  2. I know my stuff is accurate and I don’t want folks changing my tree
  3. I can’t upload my Gedcom file

Oh, boy, do I hear you.

Finding tangled trees with crazy and obvious errors can be frustrating; however, the problem often didn’t start with FamilySearch. Tangled trees with egregious problems float around in print and online trees. When you’ve spent hours fixing the problems you’ve discovered, it’s hard to ask you to help fix the FamilySearch Family Tree. So, if you don’t have the patience, perhaps you shouldn’t use FamilySearch.However, the folks behind FamilySearch Family Tree realized that the messes existed prior to the open-edit service. Their attempt to fix the errors for future generations and attempt to work toward an accurate family tree centered around the idea of having folks work on essentially one version of George Adams of Victor, Minnesota rather than 100+ versions with only 35% of the those being accurate. Then multiply this across all persons who have lived on the earth (as far as records support). While I understand finding a tangled mess is a pain in the glutes. Not using a site that actively wants to sort out the mess and ultimately keep it tangle-free is not my answer.

Would it be worth the attempt to help prune and clean up the FamilySearch family tree? For me, it is. If it’s not for you, then use another service.

Defending the accuracy of our research is natural. Avoiding the possibility of another changing your research is scary.

Is there anyone on your family tree where you are lacking all the evidence to prove every fact of their life? If your tree is small, the possibility you have all the facts correct is higher than if you have a large tree. For trees with thousands of names, you could have mistakes and not know them.

Recently I encountered someone who changed the FamilySearch Family Tree for my 2nd great-grandmother Caroline Mack who married Joseph Geiszler and Michael Billman. The person who detached her from Joseph didn’t realize that she had a prior marriage than with Michael. Following her research trail, I could easily understand how she made the mistake. When I shared the evidence that Caroline had a prior marriage, she was surprised and humble enough to admit her changes were incorrect. Admittedly, I felt a twinge of frustration with the changes but we worked it out and the woman learned something new about her ancestor.

Now, someone cringed with my research.  While climbing my Townley line, two brothers married women named Catherine M who I ‘married’ to the wrong brother for a time. That wasn’t the worst of it. At some point, I merged both Catherines to a woman with the same name living in an entirely different part of the state where they lived. When the non-related Catherine’s family contacted me and presented evidence of their line not being related, I was able to untangle the three Catherines. I have learned not to pride myself on my accuracy of research. Mistakes happen. If you disagree, then perhaps FamilySearch Family Tree will drive you insane because your research might be changed for the worse as much as for the better.

When you have built your trees digitally, FamilySearch is frustrating because you can’t upload your tree rapidly.

FamilySearch doesn’t let you upload a Gedcom file or quickly transfer a family tree from one site to another because their focus is different than others. If their family tree has 1.1 billion names in the tree, then the FamilySearch database wants to ultimately have 1.1 billion unique people rather than any percentage of duplicate profiles for the same individual.

There is a great chance that your ancestors are already in the FamilySearch Family Tree, especially if you link into American Patriot, Mormon Pioneer, or Mayflower ancestors. If you have a published family history, those family names are likely in the family tree as well. There is no reason to add your duplicate version of these individuals who are already in the common family tree. Adding your Gedcom will bloat the tree and create the need to merge multiple (100s or 1,000s) of profiles. It would be better to force you to only add new individuals not previously added to the tree. If you don’t want to add to the research that others have already compiled on FamilySearch or review the accuracy of their research along the way, then perhaps FamilySearch Family Tree is not a site for you. You could still find records for your ancestors on the “Record” side of FamilySearch. However, you’re missing out on the ability to keep track of your searches and discoveries by linking the findings to a person on the family tree.   I’M STILL A FAMILY SEARCH FANGIRL.

Despite the reasons some people avoid using FamilySearch Family Tree, I’m still loyal to the collaborative online tree. It has the potential to create the most accurate world family tree. I’m not naive enough to believe we’re there yet. There is still more to research to do to connect everyone that has lived on earth to the right family members. But I’ve come to think this is the path forward. I’ll still use other sites and services to ‘plant’ my tree, but I’m willing to put in the time to prune the branches of my tree in FamilySearch.

If you decide FamilySearch is not for you, it’s okay. At least make that choice based on your experience, rather than personal fears or the frustrations of others.

FAN chart on FamilySearch with overlay says "3 Reasons Not to Use FamilySearch"
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

4 thoughts on “3 Reasons Not to Use FamilySearch Family Tree

  1. I appreciate and welcome the FamilySearch concept of allowing anyone to correct mistakes in the Tree. I have spent literally years trying to get people to correct mistakes in their Ancestry.com trees. My grandparents are attached to the wrong daughter in several trees, and that incorrect relationship is still being added to other trees, thus compounding the problem instead of fixing it. I was once listed as dead in an Ancestry.com tree, and that took months to get corrected, instead of the minutes it would have taken in FamilySearch.org.

  2. My biggest problem is people need to learn to think!!! There’s something wrong when a gal has her first baby at 3 years old. There’s also something wrong when a gal is married 85 years before she was born. There’s something wrong when a son, a Dad and a granddad are all the same person (including the ID Number.) Is that a Country Western Song? One relative was buried 4 years before he died – was he really good at holding his breath or did someone get their exercise by continually digging him up to see when he died? There is also someone who belongs to one of the ‘Germans from Russia’ groups where they have ‘standardized’ all the names and he’s still old school enough to capitalize all the last names (hasn’t read family searches’ rules/suggestions). I finally got tired of changing his changes – yes, we had some email exchanges. Some people seem to try to bury the ‘skeletons in their closets’ by providing false info – when this is on legal documents it really confuses things. I like family search, but researching nonsensical mistakes makes the research process longer. Hopefully, most of these come from new people who are just so excited to find a name that they don’t weigh the details. My experience with family search when someone has entered the living as deceased, even when both the researcher and the person who mistakenly entered him as deceased have contacted family search.

    1. I agree that we should all use more caution when researching and collaborating in genealogy. I don’t think these issues are specific to the FamilySearch.org platform. Thankfully, FamilySearch adds red icons that suggest there is a problem on the tree. They also share suggestions about the errors (such as the many you listed above). I’m still of the opinion that the quality of the collective family tree will not improve if genealogists work in isolation. Yet, if individuals can’t play nicely in the sandbox and help folks who make the mistakes listed above, then perhaps the impatient should work alone.

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