Friday, October 26, 2012

Family Tree – The Next Real Breakthrough?

We are all familiar with the scenario of neophyte genealogists who want to take DNA tests so that they can be sent their entire family pedigree charts—perhaps on a flash drive or maybe it will be in the form of a downloadable file. We all get knowing chuckles out of this naive misconception of how complex it is to assemble one’s family history. What if they were the realists and we were the genealogical Neanderthals? What if they were the visionaries – except for the flash drive or the downloadable file?    

We are gradually being handed the tools to make this pipe dream a reality. The first decade of the 21st century has brought us DNA testing. The second decade is introducing us to a viable universal interconnected family tree. 

Jay Verkler laid out some of the intellectual concepts of such a tool in his 2012 RootsTech keynote address “Inventing the Future, as a Community”

If you missed Jay’s presentation in February or wish to review it again, it is linked above.

As with all visionary systems, the first attempt at implementation is often less than a complete success. FamilySearch now seems to have seen some errors of the way it rolled out New FamilySearch. That effort to combine all the data in submitted family trees and extracted data resulted in a massive mess. Many of you may have very bitter tastes in your mouths from that experience. If you missed it, you are among the lucky ones.

However, Family Tree, due for a launch in early 2013, has a chance to become the tool for taking the next big step in our ability to share genealogical information.  The early look I have had at Family Tree was mind boggling. It certainly is exciting in concept. If it is executed properly, it will force most of us to rearrange some of our mental blocks.

Some of the most important concepts incorporated into Family Tree include:
·         1. ONE CORRECT record per person (and only one) -- instead of throwing all records (the good, the bad AND the ugly) out there and let the buyer beware;
·         2. Genealogically real relationships (not just Temple ordinance sealings);
·         3. Full wiki collaboration (like Wikipedia);
o   Anyone can edit records
o   Edit history can be viewed
o   Edits can be reversed
o   Editors are encouraged to explain rationale for why they made edits;
·         4. Watch button to select individuals if you want be notified if changes are made;
·         5. Evidence based sourcing;
·         6. Permanent links to external digital documents;
·         7. Cloud storage – permanent and archived;
·         8. Unless deceased, persons born in last 110 years will have data displayed only in the account of the person who entered them. 

My instructor opined that we would soon give up our genealogical software such as Personal Ancestral File (PAF), RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker as we come to realize the reliability and functionally of Family Tree has make that effort redundant. This blogger was born in the “Show me” state so he will probably be keeping his RootsMagic for the foreseeable future.

I’m eager to get started cleaning up some of my lines that I have already seen in Family Tree. This exciting program is scheduled to be made available to all of you in early 2013. The functionality that will allow you to upload pictures and other media is still being worked on but is expected by the time of the public launch.
Some genealogists may have to be left wandering in the 20th century wilderness to gradually die off so that the rest of us, who share a different vision, can move forward.


  1. What??? You mean you may actually use 'the cloud'? Yes!!!

  2. Yes Granny Geek. You would the entire Verkler presentation linked above

  3. Thank you, Dave. I will be at the next RootsTech to follow up. I wonder how they will monitor corrections and source submissions. I've had some negative experience with Wikipedia where I have submitted corrections with sources only to have my words changed back to the original but now with my sources left for the "bad" information.

    1. Hi Doris,
      Will you be at the FTDNA Conference in Houston?

  4. But surely you would still want your own personal tree in paf, ftm etc. I know I would. Genealogy is a personal thing.

  5. I certainly will not get rid of anything I have. The question going forward will be whether it will become burdensome to keep excellent and up-to-date trees in two locations. Only time will tell.

  6. I don't want to alarm anyone, but from a previous Post I suggest we be very careful about "cloud" storage. Initially it seemed (to me) to be yet another way for certain companies and providers to lay their hands on more of our dollars, and I have not yet seen anything that changes that opinion - it is still just "the latest new thing". Additionally, Amazon's "cloud" service recently crashed - what if another crash like that was not recoverable - due to a dishonest or incompetent provider, perhaps - and there were billions of records lost? (Don't tell me about backups, either, there is no such thing as a 100% reliable backup.) Just suggesting a word of caution when using "the next best thing", sometimes they are just scams or the same method as we are using now but with a different name.