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Understanding Family Tree on FamilySearch – An Introduction

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After my post on Friday about RootsMapper I can see that many of my readers are not completely familiar with Family Tree on FamilySearch.  So here’s the scoop… is a website that includes several parts:

  • Family Tree
  • Memories (which are integrated into Family Tree)
  • Search – this is where you search records
  • Indexing
  • FamilySearch Wiki which includes all sorts of help topics

Why is it important to understand the different parts?

Well, the search feature is sometimes confused with the find feature.

What now?

Yes, it’s confusing.  The search feature allows you to search for records about your family members.  The find feature allows you to search Family Tree to find your family members who exist within the tree.

Does that sound the same?  It’s really not I promise.

This is the point at which it’s important to understand the purpose of Family Tree – which is only ONE part of  Family Tree was created with the intent to be ONE tree representing all of mankind.  The goal is to get us to work together to create the most accurate and complete family tree with every person reflected in that tree only ONE time.  So that means I don’t “have a tree on FamilySearch”, I choose to participate in THE tree on FamilySearch.  That tree is named Family Tree.

It’s at this point that you may be questioning what this experience is like.  Because who wants to constantly collaborate right?  We order loving genealogists like to research something, document our findings, source someone and have it stay just as we left it, right?  Well, if you choose to participate in Family Tree you really need a more community minded perspective.  Successfully participating requires understanding the various types of experiences that occur in the collaboration process so you can preempt some of the problems and it requires patience.

You may be wondering what the benefits are to this type of community effort with the constant changes, mistakes, and disagreements.  Well, let me tell you what I’ve learned.

First, there is a place for everyone in genealogy from beginner to highly specialized expert.  When a beginner jumps in and participates in Family Tree they are bound to make mistakes.  How we approach those beginners can have a huge impact on their future efforts and how we feel about those mistakes.  Everyone brings something to the table and when we have an open mind we can be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Second, two minds are better than one, and three minds are better than two, and on and on it goes.  When we really collaborate, we can create a much more accurate tree.  Really collaborating doesn’t mean that we are just tolerating other users, it means that we are communicating and working together to gather information, review the data and draw conclusions.  It requires writing good reason statements and leaving detailed notes so that our family members understand our reasoning.  When we take those steps our extended family members are much less likely to change our hard work.

Third, we are related to so many more people than we have met or heard of before.  By participating in Family Tree we can meet new cousins.  These connections are so good.  Guess what?  Physical items like pictures, family bibles, and journals can only be inherited by ONE person.  Connecting on Family Tree can often lead to a happy digital reunion with family heirlooms we didn’t know existed and those heirlooms can lead to more discoveries.  When we put all of our collective pieces together, the story becomes richer and more detailed.

Fourth, learning to have patience with such a massive project and all of the participants leads to personal growth AND cool genealogy discoveries.  Allow me to illustrate with a short version of a cool story.  A while back I got an email from FamilySearch notifying me that a change had been made to someone I was “watching” on Family Tree.  When I looked at it I was completely dismayed to see that “MY” James Young was a total mess.  It took some work to clean everything up and restore order in this part of the tree.  As I worked, I revisited my information about James Young.  He was my current end of line individual.  I hadn’t been able to find his death record.  All of this time cleaning him up led me to finally find that death record and then the death records of his parents.  That beginner making a mess of James Young helped me take my tree back two generations!  A mistake that brought awesome rewards.

If you have ever considered having a tree on FamilySearch I hope you will adjust your thinking and consider PARTICIPATING in Family Tree on FamilySearch.  The more the merrier!  The more experience, the more accurate the tree will be.  Family Tree can use you and your expertise on your family members.  Participating in Family Tree has been a great experience for me.  If you choose to participate I hope it will be a great experience for you too!


If you have questions about FamilySearch or Family Tree, please ask.  I am very familiar with utilizing both the tree and the other resources on FamilySearch and I want to share that knowledge.  I would love to use your questions to guide my posts on this topic.

Happy Monday!


8 thoughts on “Understanding Family Tree on FamilySearch – An Introduction”

  1. Thanks for the post. I remain quite skeptical of the collaborative “one tree” efforts in genealogy, at least in the broad stroke way that FamilySearch and Geni work. I love collaboration on the smaller scale, and I have learned a lot working with others. My views on the World Tree or One Tree project has perhaps been poisoned by the very negative experiences I’ve had on Geni. I’ve not tried FamilySearch so perhaps it is different, but Geni makes it so difficult to make corrections and even harder to know what sources people have relied on before inserting information. I am glad this works for you, but I prefer to work in small groups piece by piece so that I can see where information comes from and how reliable it is.

    1. I have never worked in Geni. I really got a bitter taste in my mouth from One World Tree. Family Tree allows you to change anything (with a few exceptions – famous people or people with LOTS of descendants are locked and there is a process to submit changes). There is a big push to source and explain so that is helpful. I completely understand your feelings. I think it’s been a good experience for me because I mostly work on my mom’s side and no one is working in the areas I am. I RARELY bump into other researchers and they almost always back away – I guess I’m scary? Not really, I just source and explain so they leave my work alone for the most part. The things that get changed are items I haven’t been back to since they were added to Family Tree so I haven’t sourced them yet. I also keep a private tree on ancestry that is my own little world. 🙂

      1. Sounds like a good mix. But I can’t imagine manually adding my tree at this point to another site. It’s gotten too big!

  2. Thanks for this post Amberly; it’s clarified a lot. I’m with Amy though. I’ve found so much incorrect information and lack of research rigour in others’ that I’m happiest working on problems in my own way so I can be confident in my findings. I like the idea of collaboration, and would do it more if I find other researchers (rather than enthusiastic folks who take things are face value and insist on their “correctness.”)

    1. You are welcome! I know what you are talking about. In fact, it took a while for me to find my groove. I’m okay with it for a few reasons, one – I keep my own tree elsewhere that stays just as I leave it, and two – I have learned that if I thoroughly source and note a person/family they usually stay that way. I do get tired of people who insist they are right with no proof aside from some old completely citation free family group sheets or something like that. So basically, I understand why you feel the way you do. I really wanted to clarify the intent behind Family Tree though because I was getting kind of tired of people complaining. For the most part they just didn’t understand that Family Tree is collaborative – kind of a key factor people should understand before they invest time there.

      1. Thanks. It was really useful because I’ve only every used Family Search for, well, searching! I had a particularly bad experience with someone who wasn’t even related to my tree insisting I re-write a whole bunch of my research because it didn’t agree with their (totally spurious) conclusions. Even when I demonstrated conclusively that we were talking about different people with the same name, he wouldn’t go away. I do understand that my experience is pretty extreme, and I really shouldn’t let it stop be doing collaborative research (with emphasis on RESEARCH). 🙂

        1. Research is the key word isn’t it? I taught a class last Thursday night and a man attended who kept talking about how if you want to learn anything new your only choice is original research. He was saying it like research is akin to finding the cure for cancer and it was clear he has never researched and has no idea how to do so. I just smiled and agreed and wondered what he was hoping to get from my class.

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