Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Solving the Problems of a Shared Tree

FamilySearch Family Tree is a shared tree. Unlike trees you might upload to other websites or that you keep on software on your personal computer, Family Tree has no concept of "my tree". It is all "our tree." We can all edit, add family members, add sources, merge duplicates, add Memories. We can all remove stuff we feel is not correct and change stuff around. Because of that, we all have times when others make changes we don't agree with.

As I help folks with their issues, it is not unusual for them to begin with something like, "Some idiot has made a mess of my tree." People get pretty passionately angry about changes made by others that they don't agree with. They want to be able to lock a record down so nobody can change it. Or they want to be able to isolate "their" tree so others can't muck about in it.

What to do?

There are things you can do to safeguard your data.

  • Have your data in more than one place!!! Keep it on multiple websites or keep it on FamilySearch Family Tree but also on software on your computer. Keep paper records. Do something more than putting your research results in FamilySearch Family Tree. If someone really makes a hash of things, you want to be able to look at your records and put it right again.
  • Look at your tree data. What evidence have you given other users to help them understand why you have things the way you do? Have you added good sources? Do you have some helpful notes that explain some things about how you reached conclusions? When you made changes to the stuff someone else added, do your reason statements give them enough information to be able to properly evaluate what you did? If the answers to any of these questions is "no", I fear you have precious little room to complain about the actions of others.

There are also some attitude adjustments that might be in order

  • Charity, my friend. I sincerely hope you do not go through life assuming that the rest of the world is out to make your life miserable! Most people most of the time are trying to do right. Sure, some have more expertise and are more careful about things than others. But I have yet to meet the person who goes into FamilySearch Family Tree chuckling softly to themselves, "Let's see whose tree I can mess up today." Recognize that others are doing the best they know to do. 
  • Communicate in a friendly way. Family Tree gives you ways to contact other contributors of information. I have done that on many occasions. I do not accuse them of making a mess. I ask them questions: "Can you help me understand why you feel that he was born in Sarasota?" Sometimes I get no answer, in which case I go ahead and make the correction I feel needs to be made and document it as well as I possibly can. Sometimes I do get an answer and sometimes those answers are very helpful. Once my husband got an answer, "I have no idea why I did that. Please fix it."
Lastly, don't get into an eternal tug-of-war. Sometimes neither you nor the other fella are willing to give in. You might be able to compromise if it's just a matter of a few years' difference in dates and agree to enter an "about" date. Or, sometimes, you just need to break your tie to a particular Family Tree record entirely and create a new branch. I've had to do that on one line where we were never going to be able to agree and more than one person was getting rather testy about the whole thing. Here's how to do that.

Let's suppose that I have an ancestor, Henry. Someone else has an ancestor who is one of Henry's siblings. We don't agree as to who their parents are. We've tried to work together but are not getting anywhere. So, it's time to walk away from the problem and move on. I decide to let them have that record of Henry and do their worst with it. I let them leave Henry showing with the other set of parents and I go to the folks I believe are Henry's parents. Then I click to add a child to those parents and create a new record for Henry--rejecting the possible matches FamilySearch finds for me. I might need to create some other records too that are involved in the disagreement, but it usually doesn't take too long to get things back in order with new records. 

Then I have to be sure to search for possible duplicates for the new records I created and mark them as "not a match" with good reason statements about differences in parents or whatever so we don't get things merged and just get right back in the same fix again.
Takes some time, but it's better than being aggravated and fuming over things I can't control. 

  • Recognize the good in others.
  • Don't let their mistakes upset you. 
  • Don't always be so sure that you are the one who is right--be willing to ask and consider the opinions of others.
  • Don't let it fester--you can fix it no matter how aggravating it is.

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