New software tool will change the way we work with online data
January 26, 2011
This tiny, little symbol is beginning to revolutionize the way genealogists look at online data - starting first with the data at new.familysearch.org:
And it is now available exclusively as part of Legacy Family Tree's FamilySearch toolset.
FamilySearch databases with patron-contributed data, such as the Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, and parts of the International Genealogical Index (IGI) have always had a cloud hanging over them. Before mentioning the problems, however, these databases have always been "partly-sunny", meaning, that there are plenty of good genealogies, clues, and accurate information too.
But we've seen plenty of problems with the data - a person who died before they were born, a christening before birth, a child born 70 years after their parents were married, and so on. The major reason why this data is bad is because of the GIGO theory - garbage in, garbage out. When we have inaccurate data in our personal family files and then we choose to share it with online databases, that same bad data appears online - imagine that.
Often it is difficult to separate the good from the not-so-good. Until now.
In the example below, Legacy's FamilySearch tool compares what I have in Legacy about Martha Wilde with what New FamilySearch has about her. Notice that there are lots of different opinions about the facts in her life. These opinions have been contributed by many different researchers, and it looks like there are a few variations in the spellings of the places.
The real problem is not immediately obvious without the new red warning symbol next to the marriage information. This symbol is an indicator that there is a potential problem with this event. Hover your mouse over the symbol and the problem is described:
Looking closer at her birth information, it appears that there are three different opinions:
- June 15, 1889
- abt 1890
- June 15, 1899
Notice that the 1899 event is bold. This indicates that this is the summary event, or the event that has been chosen to be the primary event. Clicking on the Edit Summary button, it appears that someone by the contributor-name of "taytay" changed the birth summary on April 19, 2010 to June 15, 1899.
It's quite likely that "taytay" had a typo when they contributed this information, but this turns into a real problem when other researchers view Martha's summary and casually copy its information. Although other researchers cannot change taytay's submission (only the contributor can change or delete their information) they can change this person's summary information. After doing this, it now looks like this:
The result of my fixing this is:
1) other researchers who view Martha Wilde at new.familysearch.org will now see the corrected birth year as the main/summary information,
2) the red warning symbol is now gone
Had that red warning symbol not been there it would be simple to overlook the problem.
These red warning symbols will change the way casual researchers view and use data online. When we see one of these symbols, we are now more careful about the information we choose to download into our Legacy files (of course we should just use online data as clues and then verify it).
These red warning symbols also appear next to our Legacy data if there is a potential problem (click to enlarge):
In this example, Della Williams has a warning next to her birth information. Hovering the cursor over the symbol provides the explanation that she was born more than 20 years after the marriage of the parents:
While this may not be a problem, it cautions the researcher - it gets them to double-check their work. Now, before the researcher uploads any information to FamilySearch, if they see a red warning symbol, they are more cautious. These red warning symbols will prevent bad data from multiplying like it has in the past. Because of this new tool, we will be more careful about spreading the diseases of bad data.
You can change which potential problems are displayed. Just go to Tools > Potential Problems Options.
If you see a red warning symbol and you would like to try to correct the problem, there are some options. In fact, I taught an hour-long class this past weekend on what can be corrected and how to do it. Click here to view "Improving Your Use of FamilySearch: Data Cleanup Strategies" and download its handouts.
This new tool of analyzing online data is currently only available in Legacy Family Tree. It is changing the way we analyze and view online data. Because it is so powerful I suspect that other vendors will soon adopt it. I hope so. I encourage the FamilySearch developers to consider adding these red warning symbols to FamilySearch databases online. Maybe these small red warning symbols will be adopted in all online databases.
Our company's motto is "Changing the world of genealogy..." I think we've done it, again.