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

3 Reasons Not to Use the FamilySearch Family Tree

FamilySearch is a free genealogy tree building website with searchable and image-only record collections. Despite these advantages, there are three reasons you may not want to use the FamilySearch Family Tree in your research.

If I had the rights to make a t-shirt 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.

Why you should not use

Despite how much I appreciate this collaborative family tree, I often hear three major reasons why people avoid the FamilySearch Family Tree.  

  1. The FamilySearch Family Tree is too tangled.
  2. “My research is accurate. I don’t want folks changing my tree.”
  3. I can’t upload my Gedcom file.”

“The FamilySearch Family Tree is a mess.”

Finding tangled trees with crazy and obvious errors is frustrating; however, the problem often didn’t start with FamilySearch. Those twisted twigs persist in print and online trees.

When you’ve spent hours fixing the problems you’ve discovered, it’s hard to see it change. the FamilySearch Family Tree. However, the folks who developed the FamilySearch Family Tree want to smooth out the tangles.

Their platform attempts to fix the errors for future generations. Eventually, folks will work with one version of George Adams of Victor, Minnesota rather than 100+ versions with only 35% of those profiles being accurate.

While I understand finding a tangled mess is a pain in the hindquarters, not using a site that actively wants to sort out the mistakes is not my response.

If you don’t have the patience, perhaps you shouldn’t use FamilySearch.

Family Search Isn't the Problem - Interview with James Tanner
Watch this video on YouTube.

My research is accurate. I don’t want folks changing my tree.”

Before you proclaim that your family tree research is accurate, answer the following questions:

  • How many names have I personally and thoroughly researched?
  • Is there anyone on my family tree where I am lacking all the evidence to prove every fact of their life?
  • Am I humble enough to admit when I made a mistake?

If your tree is small, you likely have a fairly accurate family 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.

Meanwhile, my Townley line had a mistake that I made.

Two brothers married women named Catherine M.! (Why!?!?) As a baby genealogist, I ‘married’ to wrong Catherine to the wrong brother.

That wasn’t the worst of it.

At some point, someone on the FamilySearch merged both Catherines to a third woman with the same name living in an entirely different part of the state.

The unrelated Catherine’s family historian contacted me and kindly indicated the errors in my research. *Gulp*

Together we worked to sort out the three Catherine Ms and ‘remarried’ them to the correct husbands.

Mistakes happen. If you disagree, then perhaps FamilySearch Family Tree will drive you insane.

I can’t upload my Gedcom file.”

The goal of FamilySearch Family Tree is to have ONE profile for everyone who ever lived. Each time you add a new person to the family tree, FamilySearch will check to see if that individual already appears in the database.

You have to manually agree to add new people or to make changes to existing profiles.

Therefore, you can’t rapidly upload your tree from another genealogy software program or online tree platform.

Should you Upload your GEDCOM File?
Watch this video on YouTube.

Depending on your heritage, your ancestors are likely in the FamilySearch Family Tree database. Do you descend from any of the following:

  • American Patriots
  • Mormon Pioneer
  • Mayflower ancestors
  • Early Colonial Americans
  • United Empire Loyalists

Additionally, if you have a copy of a published family history prior to 1990, 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.

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.

Should you avoid using entirely?

Heck no!

  • You can research the free records on FamilySearch.
  • You can use the FamilySearch Wiki as a portal to other research ideas.

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.

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

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.


  • Donna Roginski

    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 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 tree, and that took months to get corrected, instead of the minutes it would have taken in

  • Alan James

    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.

    • Family History Fanatics

      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 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.

  • kathy shuller

    The pro to Familysearch genealogy is periodically they save the entire website to hard copy storage and store it in the middle of a granite mountain in Utah. It is preserved for all time even with mistakes. The cons are too many people use bad sources to document their input. Hint NO CENSUS RECORD IS EVER TO BE USED AS A TOTALLY ACCURATE SOURCE. Lots of bad information due to poor transcribing and unreadable copies of census records. . You can fix this on Ancestry. You can not on FS. IN addition those whose families are not in America use data found in databases that are not open to the public and not written in English. French records are a primary example. The Drouin Collect of French records is a good example. Ancestry bought these old records of the Catholic records in Canada and to this day they have never paid a professional translator to provide an English typewritten version. Shame on them. They sell access to these records but unless you speak French you really cant read them. Using these records results in a lot of errors. The FS process to convert sources not found in the FS database is too laborious so many don’t add sources at all. At that point you are dealing with hearsay. I copy and paste documents found in other genealogy sites to the page and if others want to waste time following the procedure to ID it on FS have at it. My Ancestry trees all have the exact source of info and I can’t transfer it to FM one record at a time. I saw a video where it had an icon to transfer to FS but it does not exist on my Ancestry Account. We need quality interaction between FS and Ancestry because Ancestry has better access to records than FS.

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