My original intention for this blog was to publish to a general amateur genealogist audience, but I realize that many individuals in my audience are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so I will on occasion do a post mainly for that portion of my audience. That being said, this information is useful for anyone who uses FamilySearch, but more relevant for members of said church.
I recently gave a presentation to some of my local LDS members about using FamilySearch. In the process of preparing and presenting the lesson, I came to the realization that the number one thing most church members come to FamilySearch to do can also be one of the hardest things for a beginner to do on FamilySearch Family Tree: that is, reserving names for temple ordinances (for more information on temple ordinances, see here and here). The reason it can be so difficult is that every time you try to reserve a name, FamilySearch launches a window to search for duplicates. This can be very confusing for someone who is new to FamilySearch, new to genealogy, or new to computers in general, and many people who are trying to reserve names for the temple fit all three of those categories.
When faced with this problem, I think the gut reaction for anyone who is in a hurry to get temple work done is to click “not a match” for all the suggested duplicates and go ahead and reserve your ancestors name, whether or not they are already in the tree. This is exactly what you should not do. If you are in a hurry, follow #1 on my list here, and come back to it later.
For step-by-step instructions on how to merge duplicates, see this page. The following tips will help you process in your mind whether a possible duplicate is a duplicate of your ancestor and needs to be merged, or whether they are a separate individual.
1. Take notes
If you are going through the steps to reserve a name for the temple and you are presented with a list of duplicates, you might want to write down the duplicates you have found. Although the database will probably find the same duplicates if you go through the same process again, you don’t want to be clicking the same buttons over and over again. Save yourself some time by writing down the name and PID of each duplicate as well as your own ancestor, being sure to mark which one is the one in your tree. A PID is a Personal Identification Number for each individual person in FamilySearch Family Tree. There may be thousands of individuals named “John Smith” in the database, for example, but each one has their unique PID (for example, “LHK7-FQB”). You can look up individuals by their PID by clicking on “Find” and then “ID number,” and typing the number in the search box. This makes finding individuals in the database quick and easy.
Whether you write down the names and PID’s of your duplicates on a Word document or a physical piece of paper is up to you. It also might be helpful for you to go to each individual duplicate’s personal page and print it out so you can compare their information. Or just navigate to the different pages on separate browser windows on your computer. You should do whatever makes it easier for you to compare and analyze the individuals and determine whether or not they are duplicates.
2. Keep in mind that some individuals are over-merged.
I have seen many individuals on Family Tree who have been merged when they are not actually duplicates. You can tell because the information about them does not match up. For example, Family Tree says Sarah Elizabeth Spencer (KWV3-6QQ) was born and christened in England in 1814, then married to one man in 1833 in Pennsylvania, in 1835 to a different man in Maryland, then married again in 1848 and 1854 to two other men in Pennsylvania. It also says her parents were married in Maryland in 1813. It is unlikely that all of these events occurred in all of these places to the same Sarah Elizabeth Spencer. And since hers is a common name, I think it is highly likely that this one individual in Family Tree is actually multiple individuals who were merged by mistake, or as I like to call it, “over-merged.”
If you run into an over-merged individual, don’t merge your own ancestor into it. Instead, click the “Not A Match” button, and if you feel up to it, see if you can undo the merge. And if you think your ancestor and a possible duplicate are not a match, or if you aren’t sure, don’t merge them! Do more research or come back to it later.
3. Do your research.
You can’t know for sure if a possible duplicate is an actual duplicate unless you know enough about the individual in question to actually make a decision. Ideally you should gather all the records you possibly can on an individual, but if you’re new to genealogy research and you are having a hard time finding records, I recommend you collect at least three. With the availability of records on the internet, this should not be that hard to find for American ancestors from the early 1800s to the present. For example: a census record, a marriage record, and a burial record.
Many members of the church may feel that research is a daunting task or they don’t have time for it — they just want to hurry and find a name to take to the temple. But by doing the research and getting to know the individual, your temple experience will be more meaningful.
Research any possible duplicates, too. If a possible duplicate has a slightly different name, different birth date, or other information that doesn’t match up with your ancestor, run some searches for that alternate information in online genealogy databases and see what comes up.
When you do merge an individual with a duplicate, make sure to write in the appropriate box why you think the two individuals are the same person. And if you did any research, be sure to add any new sources you have found to the person’s page. This will make it easy for others in the future to identify whether your ancestor is also their ancestor or not. Do all you can to make your part of the Family Tree as accurate as possible, so that the duplication of temple work can be prevented.