Sea Genes

Family History & Genealogy Research

The New (Ir)Relevance of FamilySearch

with 3 comments

FamilySearch.org’s goal is to become the Google of genealogy. True, in a way. The reality, however, is that they aim to become a phishing and packet-sniffing site, with users (in)voluntarily turning over their genealogical data for the LDS church’s religious rituals.

How is this happening? The new ‘standard’ they have talked about, for a long time, replacing GEDCOM, is where it happens. They want to get all the major software developers on-board so they can use your genealogy application to give them your hard-researched data. They are trying to make it so easy to search their site and probably find nothing of value, but in the process you involuntarily give them everything of value. They want to ‘sync’ their database with your data while you think you are only getting data from their database into yours. They can do that simply because you’ve agreed to their terms of use. What terms of use? Read it carefully. It will most likely read something like “any information you enter on this site becomes the property of the LDS church. …”

There is an interesting paper floating around on the web that discusses some ways to get around the increasing irrelevance of the FamilySearch organization. It calls the National Genealogical Society’s “Standards for Sound Genealogical Research” document “disturbing.” The quote follows: “While these are sound principles for traditional genealogical research, they carry the disturbing implication that each researcher must verify the work done by anyone else by personally examining the original sources.” Traditional research meaning how any responsible genealogist does his or her work. The filename on the web is “10.1.1.111.2341.pdf”, and the title is “Efficient Genealogy through Personal Extraction and Automated Verification”.

The author of the paper, D. Randall Wilson, advocates creating a database of extracts collected from volunteers; you, whether you like it or not, for the church’s use and to lure other victims. The goal is similar to what Geni.com did: lure people in with free access and tools to share, and then make all of that data available for their church members to change; with you, the original, accurate recorder of the information standing by helplessly.

Mr. Wilson has also written another paper called “Bidirectional Source Linking: Doing Genealogy ‘Once’ and ‘For All'”, filename “wilson.fht2002.bi-link.pdf”. This paper’s title is, in itself ridiculous since genealogy is never done, “once and for all.” The goal of this paper is to create a linking scheme, with their network as the hub, for genealogists to use. They’d use data extraction and data mining tools on all the data crossing that network, and use the data for their own gain. The thing is, even though this sounds like criminal hacking or phishing, it would be ‘voluntary’ because the genealogist implicitly agreed to their practices.

The mere idea of Mr. Wilson’s ‘Bidirectional’ paper and his other (‘Efficient Genealogy’), shows how the LDS church views legitimate family history and genealogy, to an end for their own gain: not to share with others, but to collect others’ dead relatives and use those dead relatives for religious reasons. Somehow, I’m reminded of the Twilight Zone episode called “To Serve Man.” FamilySearch, the Family History Library, their databases, and other ‘genealogical’ resources have always been for the benefit of their members’ use: finding people to attach to their families and baptizing them; regardless of the dead person’s religious beliefs or spiritual leanings.

I’ve been a genealogist for over 10 years, and yes, I have used FHL and FamilySearch.org resources. Thing is, I’ve also always found a different, better source for the same information. Years ago, I used to see lots of references to FHL holdings in serious journals; today I see hardly any. Coincidence? Probably not. A shift in documentation standards? Could be. Like myself, others are probably also finding different, better sources than what’s in the FHL or in their databases. I heartily recommend avoiding any new overtures of data sharing from any group with ulterior motives like the LDS church has espoused.

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Written by N. P. Maling

1 September 2011 at 14:22

3 Responses

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  1. An interesting post. Thanks.

    My reading of the first Wilson “Efficient Genealogy” article is that it was one of the reasons that FamilySearch went for volunteer indexing of digitized databases. It was written in about 2002, and he made a presentation at a conference in 2003 (Google the title). FS Indexing started in when, 2007? It seems to me that what they are doing follows Wilson's suggestions pretty closely.

    The T&Cs that FS has are similar to what other sites have – if you contribute data, they can use it forever. You can still use it.

    Right now, there is no automatic “sync” from a person's software database to the nFS database. You have to do it one person and one fact at a time, you control the information flow. If you don't want your info in nFS, don't contribute it.

    That's my read on this. I disagree with you on their aim to be a phishing and packet-sniffing site.

    Randy Seaver

    1 September 2011 at 15:24

  2. Thanks, Randy. I just read their Terms page and under the Licensing and Restrictions heading is “All material found at this site is owned or licensed by us.” Presumably they are including everything that is a public record and/or in the public domain. I wonder what the Mexican government would think about the legal ownership appropriation of their records by a private corporation in a different country.

    N. P. Maling

    1 September 2011 at 16:08

  3. […] Mike Voisin, discusses the realities of their use, and I’ve also written about the subject — The New (Ir)Relevance of FamilySearch. One critical example of their resources I’ve used is in A Brief Genealogy of the Maling […]


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