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23 April 2013

Family Search Redesign Hacks Off Old Guard Genealogists, but not me

I am about to hack off a lot of genealogists, but so be it. This past week, the website's new design went live. And the geneablog world saw rants by some bloggers who I consider 'top in the field'. And it was a disappointing showing. My question has been, why?

FamilySearch screenshot.

It's not like the new design was a secret. The teasers for the new design had been available for at least a few weeks. You could click and see the new changes and new site design. Why didn't folks start complaining then? Perhaps it was the newsworthiness of the change. I took journalism. I get it. Why complain to your audience before the changes happen? Complain when they actually go into effect. But really, couldn't you have made some 'helpful suggestions' before the site went live? There is a comment forum.

Nevertheless, I'm about to speak out, and perhaps speak up for the site changes. I'm going to tackle a few issues raised by the 'experts' in genealogy.


Now... the topic of biggest complaint is the fact that the Research Wiki is so hard to find. Well, guess what. I haven't used the Research Wiki much for two reasons.

A) The wiki pages that I have visited didn't give me much more information than I already knew
B) I'm a Googler... If I want to know something, I Google it. And I dare say, there are many more people like me.

So... why the ho-ha about the Research Wiki being hard to find? Because it's not from one click on the opening page. Oh darn. (Start the gnashing of teeth. I've got tough skin).

Now... I'll admit the fact that the help icon & text combination "Live Help" is misleading. My reaction is that I'll contact a researcher and not resource center. So... someone should think of a great phrase that means resources and live assistance in two words that are small to visually plug into the front screen. I'm quite certain that FamilySearch has struggled with this decision themselves.

Help doesn't convey the right meaning because most people, these days, see Help on a website as a place for technical assistance with using the website, not a resource center. Resources isn't quite right either, because that has a different connotation as well. So... what is FamilySearch to do? I honestly don't have the answer, but at least I understand why "Live Help" was chosen.

 Guess what, it's not only for the youth

The next complaint is the push to capture stories and photos to the forefront and not researching records. Ummm... I have a question that will irritate many? Did you not attend RootsTech 2013? I didn't but I did watch the live streaming. Many topics were about the need to capture the stories and photos. The photos and stories grab the attention of A-L-L audiences. Yes I said it. ALL audiences. Not just tech savy youth.

In doing the research for my family and in interacting with friends over the years, not one person, young or old, was excited about a record I found. Genealogists get excited because they know how difficult the search can be and the information that might be found. But 'regular people', don't get it. They are only excited because I was excited. But tell them a story or share a photo, now you have hooked their attention. It happens with a 72 year-old woman, a 42 year old man, or a 15 year-old young woman. It's not about age, it's about captivation. So... if FamilySearch is trying to motivate more people (including members of the LDS Church who have a core principle for this work) they're right to push the capturing of stories.

Here's a related tangent on this topic. I recently posted about "My Family History Work Isn't Done?" because I get frustrated by people who have a genealogist in the family and think, they have no part to play in sharing the story of their family. Raise your hand if you, the genealogist, would love a family member to give you a little aide. They might not enjoy digging for records or going to cemeteries, but they're willing to share photos and stories. And, if puts the sharing of stories and photos at the forefront, don't you think you now have a tool in your arsenal? Let's see the changes as such rather than belly ache about it.

Quite frankly, I think the redesign was sending a message that Family History is the work for all ages. I think the message was, come be apart of the family history sharing experience. And as you do, you'll learn the value of the records as well (see more later).


Other bloggers have said how they refuse to share their tree because it gets so tangled. Perhaps I haven't encountered this much, which biases my feelings. I am a lone wolf for MANY generations and collateral lines. It seems the Geiszlers, Browns, Longs, Smith, Wards, Peaks, and Townsends have no researchers besides me. There are Zumstein and Comfort researchers, but who is pushing my line across the pond to Germany for the Zumsteins? I also see few people working on the other names on my pedigree chart. So, I'm going to share my tree in hopes that SOMEONE will have something they can share. (And guess what, I received a photo of my great grandmother Caroline Mack by doing this from a very distant cousin-in-law) .

The research of my great aunt might be lost to the ages because she didn't have the technology to share it and her children haven't taken up the work. The research of my mother will be lost to the ages if a) I die young and b) my children don't care about my research. Who is going to share our stories?

Ahhh... a RootsTech presentation by Ron Tanner said that FamilySearch's goal is to preserve the research for generations to come. I have absolute faith in that statement. Our blogs and other genealogy websites will only be around as long as the websites or blog platforms make money. When the money runs out, where will these things be? And, when people die with brief sketches of trees because they're not willing to share photos and documents, where will the research go? is backed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The church has been teaching its members to do family history work since practically the founding of the church. Don't you think that a church that believes so strongly in family history will work to capture the family histories so they can share them with future generations? I do. So... I'm on board with sharing my photos and stories. And in time, I'll get all of my wonderful documentation attached to the family tree (that's a long process).

Oh... and didn't someone else talk about the problem of My-tree-itis at RootsTech as well. (Gee, I picked up a lot from live streaming. What will I learn next year?) I think they mentioned the need for more collaboration. And is pushing the move for collaborative genealogy. Maybe by redesigning the site so that people are working collaboratively on one tree rather than separate trees, duplicate work could be eliminated. However, few bloggers mentioned this effort (whether they agree or disagree) because they couldn't get past complaining about the front page or the Research Wiki. Yet, some did have time to say why they don't share their trees. Seems all connected to me.


This brings me to the next point. As I saw post after post complain about the site, I don't remember one talking about the laborious task of finding a source, saving it to the source box, and then attaching sources to the tree. Every time I add a record, change a date, fix a spelling, etc... FamilySearch asks me why I'm doing it. Now, I could skip putting in a reason. But, when you're asked time and time again, you get a sense that the 'why' of the action is important. And, you start putting in a reason.

Now mind you, some of my recent reasoning has been "Census record for Robert and Adeline Zumstein" without anything else. Sure this doesn't pass muster with genealogical proof. But for me, and those who stumble across it, it's a start. With 1,000 individuals on my tree to attach current FamilySearch records to, I'm not going to document my full reasoning every time FamilySearch asks. I'm just trying to get sources attached to the tree (something I've been waiting to do for YEARS).

AH HA! There in lies the problem old guard members might say. Not providing full genealogical proof for record attaching. If you have that sentiment, then you're missing the boat. never asks me why I'm attaching a record. And few other sites ask for the reasoning behind attaching records. I've interacted on some sites asking people why they attached a record to a person, and they don't know why. They just did. At least FamilySearch is asking people to state why they attached a record. And, others can comment and say why the attachment is valid or invalid. Oh, that's the process of collaborative genealogy. Again, another topic discussed at RootsTech.

For me, this step is annoying. I have 1,000 people on my tree. Find the resource (again, mind you), saving it to the source box, and then attaching it to the person on my tree is painstaking. Will I ever get through it all and still have time to capture stories and do more research? No geneablogger mentioned this. Which again leads me to believe they haven't actually used the site.

For years I have wished that FamilySearch records could be saved and attached to the tree I provided the LDS Church. Finally, FamilySearch has made those changes possible. Yippee!!! Did you hear one geneablogger mention this praise?

I also know that few have used the site much because no one is complaining about the fact that when you do a search for a record, FamilySearch does not provide a tree link indicating that the record has been attached to a tree (or trees). (I saw something of the kind in beta testing, but it hasn't reappeared). Then, when you save the record to your Source Box, there is no indication that you have previously saved this record to your source box or tree.

I have saved a record three times to my Source Box. After attaching the record to someone on my family tree, the other saved entries did not reflect the attachment. Occasionally, I'll save the same source yet again to the Source Box, FamilySearch treats it as a new record to save to the individual. In efforts to finally attach sources to the tree, I'm doing duplicate work again and again and I don't know it until I finally look at the Source List on the individual page. Had a geneablogger mentioned how frustrating this is, I might have believed they had used the site. But they haven't complained about this. So, I don't believe they did.

I have another issue with the FamilySearch website. I personally wish they wouldn't have launched the new design and open up the tree to people outside of the church without turning off the New FamilySearch website. That site keeps making changes to the FamilySearch FamilyTree. And the idea of collaboration is lost. I can't collaborate with FamilySearch as the person who makes changes on my tree. I can interact with an individual who makes a change. (Well, they have to respond back, but again, another story).  

To say the least, I'm very disappointed at the superficial reactions to the site changes. I believe FamilySearch is 10 years behind the curve on being able to attach records to trees. It will take time for the site to catch up. And someday, I'll have all the research I have already found on that site attached to the individuals on the tree. But, they're headed in the right direction... finally!


Seeing as most geneabloggers only focused on the Research Wiki , photos & stories, and the exterior of the site, I feel this is another example of trying to keep people out of the genealogy tent. This especially stood out when one post included a remark that the site wasn't designed with genealogists in mind. I'm a genealogist and I don't mind the site redesign. So, I can only assume this implies a different kind of genealogist.

Fan Chart feature is pretty cool
I shared that FamilySearch had a new design on Facebook. I had a friend, who hasn't been up on family history projects, make a comment. She was so impressed by the invitation to share photos and stories on the site. She feels motivated to ask for stories before ancestors pass away (seems like I read a post recently about that as well). And, she thought the Fan Chart was so cool. She even went so far to say that if she'd known about the Fan Chart presentation before now, she might have gotten involved sooner.  (Oh, and she's not 'young' in the definition of the under 30 crowd).

I feel the reaction to change on the site is what you would expect from any change. Some people like it, other people don't. But, I didn't expect the leaders of the genealogy tent to be so superficial in their complaints over the site design. Someone on RootsTech's live streaming didn't want to mention the tension between 'old guard' genealogists and the new group members. I think this might be what that person was referring to.

After ten years dabbling in the field, I fully understand the need to cite your sources, give credit where credit is due, and not tangle trees due to poor research skills. But when I started, it was because my church said it was important and my mother had already done some of the work for me. I had a need to feel connected to my ancestors since I didn't feel connected to the living (story for another day). As I gathered more and learned more, my research and documentation skills improved. But if I had encountered people saying the things I've read this week, I would have not gone much further.

However, I fully support the new site design and the direction the website is going. They're not abandonig the importance of research as some have said. Work with the sources and the tree and you'll see what I mean.

We must get people passionate about their family history before we can teach them the importance of proper documentation and proof statements. And you ignite passion by capturing, preserving, and sharing the photos and stories of our lives. is doing just that.


  1. Nicely written and summarized. This post makes me want to explore the FamilySearch site more.

    How far back do you go on your Townsend line? I have a brick wall Amos Townsend in Maine (1780-1862).

    1. William Townsend b 1842 in Ohio d Ohio 1889. I'm anxiously awaiting his Civil War file to see if there is a parent. Most other avenues have come up empty.

  2. I honestly haven't had much chance to try out the new FS site since the change, but based on what I have seen, I'm with you. Proper documentation is vital-- in fact, shoddy research drives me nuts, and I am forever cautioning people not to just accept/copy other people's personal trees and research without verifying it... and that is legion on

    That said, however, ahnentafel charts with nothing but names and dates hardly make people get all giddy about finding out about their family histories. The stories are what bring our ancestors (and history!) to LIFE.

    I'm naive of the "politics" of professional genealogist, but it sounds like you're slapping down what you perceive as an attitude of gene-elitism

    1. Thank you for understanding the point I was making.

  3. Absolutely fantastic response to all of the naysayers!!


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