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.

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