Sunday, May 21, 2017

How Did My Tree Get So Messed Up?

It's not unusual to return to a line of your family that you haven't visited or worked on for a while and you find that things are different. And sometimes those differences are not good. Relationships have changed; family members are missing; dates and places are goofy. FamilySearch Family Tree has a way that you can see changes that have been made, who made the change, and when. And, you can usually click a button (or 2) and get things back to rights.

On every person details page, on the right portion of the screen, is a Latest Changes box. It shows the 3 most recent changes to the record. Click Show All to see all changes made to a record since the beginning of FamilySearch Family Tree.


Most are obvious: sources were added; family members were added or removed; photos were attached. But some are a little confusing at first.

Let's start with the entries you see that indicate the change was made by FamilySearch. Fear not; FamilySearch is not going into your records and making changes willy-nilly. Here are reasons you see this.

  • The information comes from Church membership records or temple information. 
  • It is information that was on the predecessor to Family Tree and was moved by FamilySearch into Family Tree from the older website. These will not be terribly recent changes as the former system was decommissioned in Feb 2016 and so nothing continues to be brought over to Family Tree that way. 
  • Sometimes data admins come in and make changes requested by patrons that the patrons are not able to do themselves. FamilySearch is then listed as the changer of the information, although they were working on behalf of a patron.
One of the more confusing changes is something like this one:

It says a parent-child relationship was deleted and the reason the person gave was that data was the same. That doesn't seem to be about deleting something, does it? So, how can we learn more? We have  a couple of things we can do. First, we can click Show Relationship (in blue under the reason statement). When we do, we see:
So, they deleted (or maybe did something else to) the relationship of Sallie J Colvard to her parents. OK. That helps some. Can I learn more? If you look all the way to the right of this entry (not included in the screenshot), you'll see Reference. Click it. Now we're getting somewhere!


Now I know what happened. On 28 Apr 2016, KeithWray merged two instances of Sallie J Colvard. Merging involves one record surviving and the other being deleted. Since the person whose record was deleted had been showing as a child in this family, the change log shows this as a deleted relationship rather than a merged record. 

If you wanted to explore further, you could click the deleted Sallie J Colvard and actually look at that record. And, if you wanted to bring her back into the tree (the one deleted in the merge), all the way to the right of this Relationship Deleted box, you can click Restore Relationship, enter the reason you feel it needs to be restored, then click Restore.

When the merge did not delete the record currently showing in the tree, this is what you see in the change log:

Notice the Unmerge button in the top right allowing you to restore the deleted record as a separate record if you feel it was not a correct merge. This is one of those times that reason statements can be very important. They can help others understand your changes and hopefully avoid a tug-of-war. 

So, take the time to explore the change log when things look wrong. Look at reason statements; click the name of the person who made the change and send them a message asking (NICELY) for more information; if you think something is wrong, click Reference or Restore or Unmerge to put it back--and enter a good reason for doing it.

As long as we're on the topic of reason statements, take time to put in reasons that are helpful. It's not helpful to say something like "This is how it is in my tree." That doesn't tell others anything at all. It does not avoid tree wars. If anything, it would probably just aggravate people who felt that the change didn't make sense. Take time to search for evidence, and provide that evidence to your fellow Family Tree users.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Organizing Your Work for the Non-Enthusiast

Recently I was chatting with a friend. He indicated that he knows he should work on his family history. But, every time he sits down to start, he feels like he starts all over again and does the same thing every time. He felt that he needed an easy way to organize his work so he could see what he had accomplished the last time he was working in FamilySearch Family Tree. He felt this would help the work seem more do-able in small bites.

For years the standard ways of keeping track of family history work have been through the use of Research Logs and Research Planners. There are also various checklists out there that folks like to use. And I've used all of these tools and over time developed my own personal approach that suits me best. But, I think that these tend to be organizational tools most often embraced by the family history professional or enthusiast. My friend, and probably many people, would prefer something very basic and easy to use.

So, FamilySearch.org to the rescue!

Sign in to FamilySearch.org these days and you'll see a personalized home page. Everyone's looks a little different depending on callings, how full your tree is, special campaigns, and what-not. Here is an example:


On the left, the top box is going to vary depending on your experience, the fullness of your tree, your current Church calling, or current campaigns. You might see another box under it encouraging you to fill in the My Family: Stories that Bring Us Together booklet. Then you'll see any memory items "recently" added to your ancestors. Actually, many of the ones I see were not recently added and all of them were added by me, so I sincerely hope our engineers will decide to make this section collapsible in the near future.

On the right, everyone should see these 3 items: Recommended Tasks, Recent Ancestors, and To-do List. Notice the arrows pointing to the right for each of these. You can collapse these fields and I did so to make a smaller screenshot above. You'll also see a box that varies. You might see suggestions for trying the descendancy view or capturing family stories or visiting the app gallery or getting help at a family history center. And at the bottom of the right side are quick links to help you get to frequently used spots on the website.

I think that Recommended Tasks, Recent Ancestors, and the To-do List are wonderful tools for the an-hour-a-week or less family historian. They can help you keep track of what you've done and what you want to do next. Let's look at each one.

Recommended Tasks doesn't really fit in the organizing category, but is handy if you have just a few minutes and want to look at some record hints to add sources to ancestors. Sometimes that might be all you really have time for, but it does help you learn more about your family members and can be heart-turning. I've written about this sort of activity before in regards to the Ancestor with Tasks and Descendants with Tasks lists you can generate using the FamilySearch Family Tree mobile apps, so I won't go into any detail on that.

Recent Ancestors shows you the last 5 people whose records you have visited in Family Tree. If it's been awhile since you sat down to work on family history, this can jog your memory as to who you were working on last. Click a name on the list and bring up the summary card and then click the name on the summary card and go to that person's details page and resume your research or clean-up work or whatever.

The To-do List can be whatever you want it to be. I like to use it to leave notes for myself each time I am ready to stop for the day. I make some notes about what I found or didn't find and what I want to look for or do next time I sign in. I also note problems I noticed with records but didn't have time to fix yet. When I no longer need a note or have completed what I wanted to do, I click in the box to the left of the item and it goes to the Recently Completed Items section. And, if I want to go back and look at something in Recently Completed Items, I can click Show at the bottom right of the To-do List box to see those items. If I click the box again, the check-mark goes away and the item returns to my To-do List. If I don't want to see something in Recently Completed any more, I can hover my mouse over an item and a red X appears to the right. Click the X and that item is permanently gone.

Simple ways to keep track of your work and leave yourself notes and goals right in FamilySearch. Can't get much easier than that to be involved and not spin your wheels.