I am a big supporter of FamilySearch’s Family Tree. Yes, there are some inherent problems with a collaborative tree but I think the pros outweigh the cons. The biggest complaint researchers have is that other people can change data that they have submitted. There are a couple of things I want to say about that.
All of your research should be on YOUR computer. You should not be using FamilySearch as your genealogy database program. I think it is a mistake to use FamilySearch that way. People can change what is on FamilySearch but no one can change what is on your personal computer. You can easily sync to FamilySearch using one of the authorized programs (I of course use Legacy) which gives you full control over what is uploaded and downloaded.
They aren’t “your” ancestors. These ancestors belong to other people too. Here is a fun Descendants Calculator. I set it at 5 generations, 25 years per generation, and 4 for an average number of children (a very conservative number). This person would have 3,905 descendants. I am sure more than one of these descendants is a genealogist.
Here are a few suggestions on how you can help make the Family Tree better:
If you don’t know what you are doing you can mess it up for everyone else
This is my biggest pet peeve. People get excited and try to make changes to the Family Tree without taking the time to educate themselves on how everything works. Adding people, merging people, and deleting people affects EVERYONE who has those ancestors in their tree. The very best training I have found is the Riverton FamilySearch Library Handouts (look for them under the Family Tree heading). There are 11 pdfs you can download to your computer to read and use as a reference. They include screenshots and Riverton updates them as needed. These are the handouts I use when I give a presentation on FamilySearch (with permission).
Take the time to address the possible duplicates
A lot of people don’t address possible duplicates. They have FamilySearch ID (FSID) ABC-1234 in their tree and they only worry about updating this FSID. All of the programs that can sync will present you with a list of possible duplicates. If you are working directly on the FamilySearch website you will also be presented with a list of possible duplicates. The two mistakes you can make are not combining duplicates when you should and merging people haphazardly when you shouldn’t. If there is any question, don’t merge. Please see the Riverton Handouts for more information.
Please add your sources
Other researchers need to know where you got your information because if it conflicts with what they have and you don’t have a source, chances are they are going to update the person with their information knocking your data off. FamilySearch only allows you to "tag" sources to the vital events. I like to use the "Reason this information is correct" box for sources. I can copy and paste my source from Legacy into that box and it will show up with the event instead of at the bottom with the tagged sources. I think this make it easier to know which source goes with what.
Take advantage of the Discussions area
This is a great place to post your theories for other researchers to ponder and then add their thoughts.
Take advantage of the Notes area
This is where you can add information that won't fit in the Events area. You have the opportunity to add some explanatory notes and transcriptions.
Be amazed by the Memories tab
Distant relatives you have never met have photos that you don't have and you just might find them here. If the submitter hasn't given blanket permission to use the photo please don't forget to ask for their permission. If you have old photos I encourage you to upload them to FamilySearch. I put a copyright statement in the Description field that says the photo can be downloaded for personal use. If it will be used in any other way they need to get my permission first. Be aware that if you upload a photo you have given FamilySearch the right to use the photo as they see fit. All of this is explained HERE.
Make sure your email address/contact information is correct
Nothing is more frustrating to a researcher than not being able to contact a contributor.
If you use Legacy, here is the training information you need: Legacy FamilySearch Training
If you use one of the other programs that can sync, check to see if they have specific training materials that address both how you use the Family Tree in general and how to use their program specifically to sync.
Take the time to educate yourself on how FamilySearch's Family Tree works so you can help other researchers make it better for everyone. I am sure that you too will be one of those people who benefits.
Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.