Should we fix errors on profiles on FamilySearch and Geni, or leave them in ruin?

+33 votes

I've been fixing a few profiles I found on FamilySearch that even from the sources attached to them, were showing incorrect information.  I just fixed one that had the wrong birth year (off by 15 years) on it, because they conflated it with another person with the same name.  It was also attached to the wrong parents.  Luckily, those parents also had the real person born that year attached, so all I had to do to the focus person was fix the wrong birth year and move him to his correct parents.

That solves everything and I can go about my business on WIkitree, right?  Wrong!

Now I see that his real parents have nearly 20 children attached to them, at least 12 of them are obviously not right, as they have the same names as their supposed brothers and sisters, but with different birth and death dates. This not a case of some dying in infancy, these profiles are connected to the wrong parents, as all ~20 of them lived to adulthood.

It's not this one family this is happening to, it's an epidemic.  I've fixed a few here and there that were "easy" to fix, but I don't have the patience to do it all while I'm also trying to create and improve profiles on Wikitree!  

And I haven't even started with the third Big Tree website, Geni!

So, fellow WikiTreers, I want an opinion.  Should we be fixing the misinformation on other "one world tree" websites?  Or do we just leave them in whatever state they're in no matter how broken?

Wouldn't it be beneficial to all three "one world tree" websites if we fixed errors on all three?  Or is it a waste of time and energy that could be spent adding and improving things here?

in The Tree House by D. Botkin G2G6 Mach 3 (35.6k points)
It's been my experience that only WikiTree members will thank you for correcting an error.

I've never been to Geni, so I can't speak to that, but FamilySearch has done a lot to provide free information for many years and I don't think we should leave them hanging in the breeze.  It is very daunting, but maybe you could fix errors when you happen upon them, somehow fixing a WikiTree profile and the corresponding profile at FamilySearch.  I've often wished they would pay me because the mistakes are so egregious at FamilySearch.  People seem to want to make everything match what they think, instead of letting the records speak more.

There's another entrant in the field of shared online trees:

I haven't looked at it in a few months; I notice that it still says that it's currently in beta.
I haven't been on FamilySearch for awhile, is it possible to leave a message on the subject profile mentioning the error & then refer them to the matching profile on WikiTree? That way visitors to their site won't perpetuate erroneous information.
Betty, yes, FS has multiple methods for engaging in a conversation regarding the tree: you can message contributors directly (which, depending on their account settings, they may not see until they log in), or you can add a "note" or "discussion" item to a profile. (One of them is open-edit, the other is not, but I always forget which is which.)

To be fair to the folks at Family Search, we have to remember that their work is based on the International Genealogical Index which was a misguided early effort to crowdsource relationships out of raw data.  One reason it is rife with errors is that, in fact, volunteers were just matching names, not doing in depth research.

They have since realized the error of their ways, but the IGI is still in existence and underlies Family Search, much in the same way that DOS was really still there under Windows.

It does seem that they have learned some lessons, one is that accuracy and careful research takes much more time and effort than just matching names.  It does also seem to me that they have changed their focus a bit as well.  Originally it seemed that the idea was to trace each person back to Adam and Eve (or something like that).  Obviously this is very problematic going back past 1600 or so, and all trees converge on Charlemagne.  

Now they seem more interested in on doing more interconnections within the era of decent record keeping.  For an interesting take on this idea look at Puzzilla .  This encourages a very broad family history over a deep one.

As to where to put one's thing you have to give Family Search is that they have many, many more profiles and users than Wikitree, so if you want you have a greater impact, you have to keep them in mind.

ive been trying to sort mine out and it seams like my profile is being used as sourcing from here my family tree is a mess iam getting really annoyed ive got about 20 diff spellings of my name same on here but their all me , certin people on here yes their older then me have took it upon theirself to make these accounts and hide them from me iam stilling following this up atm as this is spoiling my reputation and wikitree as their more advanced not just in age i dont no why thay do this its like a old virus spreading thought all people accounts now thay need to sort their mess out i appoligise if my name is attached unfortunality i cannot get access
Other than occasionally looking at records FS has, I quit even trying to fix any errors. My maiden name is Adams. That whole line is a mess.

Bill from Wausau, I take exception to your remark that the IGI was a “misguided early effort to crowdsource relationships out of raw data.” The IGI was meant only as an index of completed LDS temple ordinances, no more, no less. It was simply a record of temple ordinances done by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in accordance with their beliefs based on a passage in 2nd Corinthians and revelations obtained by the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was never intended to be any sort of family tree or even a genealogical research tool.

Members of the Church were originally encouraged to build their own personal family trees, first on paper and then after the introduction of personal computers on a program (app) called PAF. There were other programs within the church’s workings to assist members to build their trees: The Ancestral File (which IIRC predates the IGI), the Pedigree Resource File and the Four Generation program (which was a feeder to the PRF). These all started long before the day of the Internet and personal computers and  were recognized by the Church as being less than ideal.

Members of the church researched and contributed to the PRF by the old way of ordering microfilms and spending hours with their heads buried in a microfilm reader looking at records and then mailing their findings to Salt Lake. Individual names were also submitted (by mail) for temple ordinances to be performed. After each ordinance was done, the name and relationship were added to the IGI. Because all of this was done by hand and by mail it could take up to 18 months for a name and relationship to appear in the IGI. Duplication was inevitable.

Many members of the Church were and still are doing genealogical work for doctrinal reasons rather than as a hobby or passion. They are also at many different levels of expertise (as here on Wikitree) and make the same sorts of mistakes as members here on Wikitree do. That includes the popularity of the myth amongst the less informed of being able to trace lineages back to Adam. It was never any sort of official goal espoused by the Church, although some members accepted it as so and proceeded with their fairy tale genealogy.

The original intent of FamilySearch was not as a public website either. Initially, it was designed as a sort of online IGI meant to consolidate the IGI, the AF and the PRF, along with name submission into a single system accessible only to members to check for duplicates and submit names to the temple for ordinance work. In fact the original name of the system was Temple Ready. To seed this program, the IGI, the AF and the PRF were all dumped into the database. Duplication was irrelevant since duplication did not interfere with its purpose. The concept of turning it into a one-tree family tree came a couple of iterations into the ancestors of today’s FS website. Later, someone got the bright idea of opening it to the public.

All of this, of course, results in a lot of unsourced nonsense in FS (like here in Wikitree) The advantage of Wikitree is, of course, both in methods of dealing with uncooperative, uncommunicative, unruly members and clearer (somewhat) guidelines and standards. FS has not caught up to us in that respect. Those of us who do a significant portion of their genealogical work on FS spend a lot of our time merging duplicates and fixing errors.

All of that being said, the primary purpose of FS remains to provide a method for Church members to track and submit names of their ancestors for temple ordinance work. If one is a member of the Church an additional tab appears on each profile detailing temple work needed/done. This tab does not appear if the user is not a member of the Church.

Temple ordinance work is the overreaching reason for FS’s existence and the driving force behind the millions of dollars spend on the website, microfilming and other research materials gathering and the granite mountain vault. It is also the reason why FS will remain perennially free.

In any event, calling the IGI a misguided anything is a mistaken conclusion, based on a misunderstanding of the only purpose of the IGI. The errors and duplication within FS are there not only because of the development history of the site but also because the aims of the majority of the users of the site are somewhat different than those of us with a passion for accurate genealogical research.

17 Answers

+15 votes
Best answer
My computer gets sluggish whenever I try researching multiple sites at once, especially if Ancestry in opened.

I do initial research on FamilySearch by verifying and adding sources to profiles. It makes adding to WikiTree easier since FamilySearch can add sources to everyone listed. It's to my advantage that FamilySearch is accurate. Then I use their FamilySearch profiles to add the entire family to WikiTree at the same time. If time is limited I add at least one source on my first edit. When I revisit that family It's easy to copy the rest of the sources to WikiTree. Next time either Research Notes or Biography can be started ...

If I see an obvious error on FamilySearch that's easy to correct I fix it. I limit fixing complicated errors to direct ancestors of family lines I maintain.

If I take a wrong turn, the error is easier to fix on FamilySearch. WikiTree never sees that error.
by Pat Credit G2G6 Pilot (148k points)
selected by Robin LaPlante
I agree that it's to our advantage if the other shared trees are made accurate.

Since 99.9% of my sources come from FamilySearch, the tree there kind of ends up as my default "first pass", with my offline tree as the second, and WT third. (This means that my WT entries are the cleanest, but the tree/branch/twig here is the most incomplete of the three.)

I've given up on the tree at Geni, however, because I just can't deal with how it tries to sell me the stuff I've connected up on FS. Plus it tells me about data clean-up needed for people that I've never heard of and have zero information about.
I get most of my sources on FamilySearch, so I try to clean up the matching profile, including merges when needed.  Then I link the profiles using the FamilySearch connections tool.

Some of the tangles in FamilySearch are too much for me.
J, thanks for your input. Good idea to have an offline tree.
Michael, thanks for your input. I also do many merges on Family Search. However, I prefer to enter the information from other sites manually into WikiTree. Computers don't always do as expected.
Thank you!  I didn’t know about the connection tool :)
Robin, Thank you!
+12 votes
I would like to be told that something on my tree that needed fixing cause I would fix it since I have the information.  I don't appreciate someone going in and fixing anything on mine.  I would rather do it myself.  I know that I could leave it for someone else to do but how is a person going to learn from mistakes if they let someone else do it.?  But you could have someone watch over and give that person say 10 days or 20 days or maybe even 30 days to fix and then they can go in and fix it if they don't do it.  I know I would fix mine within the 30 days.
by Nancy Turney G2G6 Mach 2 (27.2k points)
It is easy to get possessive about profiles we make or adopt but what happens if your great grandmother's profile is added to by her great grandson that you didn't know? The further back you go, the more people share ancestors. They may know something that you don't.

As far as changes or fixes, any major changes require contacting the PM if possible. Many never respond though. Sometimes the last change was 2 or 3 years ago. We have no way of knowing you will fix it in under 30 days. Heck, we can't even get many people to run their own suggestion report. If everyone did that, Data Doctors would be done.

(Upper right, My WikiTree, scroll down to suggestions)
Hello Steven,

Thank you so much for mentioning the suggestion report and exactly how to do it! Sadly some of us are not as adept as others and I for one appreciate pointers and reminders. I went right in and fixed what I could and I'll do more research on the ones I couldn't immediately fix.

I LOVE the friendly support on this site :)

+14 votes

You could fix one and sabotage the others devil

by Living Horace G2G6 Pilot (572k points)
“You are evil and must be destroyed.” (Steel Magnolias)
I thought I heard a maniacal laugh.
You kids behave now, dammit
Don't make me stop this car !!
@Jo: “Don’t make me come in there... now... now... I mean it!”
+20 votes
If you have enough hours in a day then go for it, but your time might be put to more profitable use concentrating on adding more to Wikitree rather than correcting errors elsewhere.
by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (633k points)
True. That's why I tend to stick to the first 100 or so people on the tree on FS. But, as I added people to my main tree on Ancestry using data from here and geni  I found a ton of errors on geni and reported 'em because they didn't gel with what we have here.

One tree had this guy be his own grandfather. So, I told the curators about it and it was fixed pretty quickly.

Haven't done much fixing in a while.
Maybe you found the family tree of a time traveler and they erased the evidence to hide it.
Logan, Thanks for the best answer star.
+18 votes
If I'm using FS for sources for WT profiles, and I come across an unsourced FS profile with sources suggested that simply aren't connected yet, then I definitely check through them and add them to the profile (and correct information accordingly), though this is more out of practicality and less out of necessarily craving cleanliness (ironic considering my OCD). To be fair, though, the majority of FS profiles I clean up are in my "recommended tasks" list because they're direct relatives of mine.
by Amelia Utting G2G6 Pilot (191k points)
+32 votes
A good rule of thumb is always "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  You can never go wrong.  I am unfamiliar with Geni, but use Family Search for quick researching.  I (try to) fix profiles and errors as I come across them - some of them are seriously jacked up.  If there are clear duplicate siblings, then I merge them.  That being said, I agree that there are not enough hours in the day.  My advise is if you happen to see something incorrect and have the time, then fix it, but don't go looking for things to fix, because that could turn out to be a black hole that sucks you in!

All the best friends!

by Janet Clifton G2G6 Mach 5 (55.5k points)
+11 votes
Yeah, I do it all the time. Most people wouldn't care as long as sources are used. I correct stuff on geni and FS a few times. The only issue really is on Familysearch since there's little to no communication for tree maintenance. Sometimes I get someone's attention. Other times people are jerks.

I was lucky this last weekend when someone mistook my great-aunt for someone else. She had my great-aunt's death notice up on this profile. I removed it and sent a message. She seemed cool with it. Other times people aren't.

It just depends on the mood you catch people. On Geni you can post in the discussion forum or ask a curator for help in assisting you if the profile is a Master Profile. It's sort of like here in that regard.
by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (572k points)
+12 votes
If I do extensive research for a profile here on Wikitree I also check the person on Geni and post my information to a discussion there if the profile needs help.  Geni has a ton of junk from all their “Smart Matches” which encourage people to grab junk from other trees, but Wikitree profiles also show up.  I don’t know enough about how Geni works to fix things there, but I’ve found that the Geni curators are quite willing to do cleanup.
by Kathie Forbes G2G6 Pilot (592k points)
+8 votes
Of course you should.
by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (209k points)
+9 votes
I always try to correct and improve the data at FamilySearch.  I appreciate the free access and great sources available and use FamilySearch profiles to get started researching ancestors.
by John Auborn G2G4 (5.0k points)
This is closest to my thoughts in regards to FS. I tend to less there (specific to my direct ancestors and surname work). I tend to get stopped by paywalls at Geni too often for it to be useful.
+7 votes
I thought that Family Search was a reliable free website that I could use. Obviously it is not. I think we are honorable individuals and we would fix errors as we came across them, although, if you are like me, there just doesn't seem to be enough time.

Having said that, everyone on WikiTree is working on the same family tree, and if you see anything wrong on the profiles that I am working on, please point it out to me, or if it was easier, fix it.

Hopefully the individuals who contribute to Family Search feel as dedicated as we do, and either correct their errors, or not get upset if they are corrected by someone else.

My 2 cents for what it is worth.
by Cheryl Hess G2G Astronaut (1.7m points)
Keep in mind that FamilySearch has multiple parts: they have a shared tree project (like WikiTree), but they also have records search, a vast catalog of mostly-digitized source documents, and indexing (i.e the process that turns some small part of the vast catalog into the records that you can search). The various parts are linked up in various ways, but they're each their own species, and you cannot judge one by the other.
Thank you for that information. I do have a family tree on FamilySearch.

I have also searched FamilySearch for various documents, ie: birth and death records.

God Bless
+3 votes
I try to update familysearch because I find it the easiest tree to use for my own needs. The big problem though is that people come through and change it and give no reason for their changes or their only "source" is one I have to pay to see. No thanks.. I post notes and send messages and no one responds.
For that reason I started a paper tree as well as having the one here which I haven't finished filling in yet,  so that I will never again log onto family search and be like-- "what happened to my ancestors?!"
by BobbieRae Young G2G1 (1.9k points)
+4 votes
I once tried to correct a transcription error on Family Search and was told that they did not have time to devote to this kind of error. They asked me if I wanted to become a transcriber for them.
by Henry Chadwick G2G6 Mach 4 (49.6k points)
I've never been able to figure out how to even submit transcription error corrections on FamilySearch. Its quite easy to do on Ancestry.
+3 votes
We could reciprocate and start using wikitree as a source for them. LOL Oddly enough, many people might not be aware of WikiTree yet and dropping a link beats writing everything up just to have it rejected or erased. If someone is really intent on fixing the profile, they would check the link unless they have to pay.
by Steven Tibbetts G2G6 Pilot (340k points)
+2 votes
I make corrections on family search when it is a fairly close relative to me.  But I leave many or make a note in their "Cooperation" section.

Sometimes I send people messages on In these cases, its someone very close to me - literally a brother - and a distant relative of the person I message, so by default I am the "expert"  I've always been thanked.
by Kathryn Morse G2G6 Mach 4 (42.4k points)
+3 votes
Like most others answering this, I use FS as my primary sourcing option, mostly because the sources are easily and freely linkable, making them ideal for published profiles on sites like WT. BUT ... and this is a BIG but ... I have found FS search options to be extraordinarily frustrating, and quite often overlooking vital sources.

Therefore, my backup sourcing option is Their search algorithm is often far more comprehensive, and accurate, coming up with source hints that I can then track down in FS and use on WT. Ancestry also has many source documents and records that are simply not available on FS. In that case, I use the Ancestry source on WT, with as much extracted information as I can get, as well as making liberal use of their "Shared Images" option.

With all that said, to address the actual question: Whenever I can, I will fix errors that I find on FS profiles, as well as adding missing sources. I've been known to merge profiles on FS as well, when it is obviously needed. (Example would be two children, one named "Andrew", born 12 Sep 1847 in Hometown, Whatever County, Whichever State, with sources, a spouse and children with sources; and then the second child named "Andy", born "about 1848" in Whichever State, with only one source, perhaps the 1850 census where he is listed with the nickname. As far as I'm concerned, that would be an obvious merge to make on FS.)

The reason I would make the fixes and merges on a FS profile is that by doing so, sources would be added to the profile on FS, making them easy to find and readily available to use on the corresponding WT profile.

I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have searched fruitlessly for a FS source for someone, using that goofy search engine of theirs, and then, after locating that individual in the FS Tree, having a dozen really good sources already attached that I can then utilize on WT. If my fixes on FS can aid someone else later on down the road, then by all means I will make that fix.
by Ron Johnson G2G6 Mach 3 (34.6k points)
+1 vote
I research all the profiles on Family Search and generally don't start work on a family on Wikitree until the entire nuclear family is fixed on Family Search.  Be sure to provide reason(s) for your edits.

A person with 20 children needs to have each of the children checked.  How else can you write a biography that accurately says how many children they produced.  They could have 20 named John something . . . or one with multiple errors
by Kathy Rabenstein G2G6 Pilot (292k points)

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