Merging People in FamilySearch Family Tree - Presentation


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This is a presentation I gave at the 2013 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy and again with updated content for a presentation at the October 2013 Riverton FamilySearch Library Saturday Seminar. This presentation helps users become more familiar with and successful using the merge-related features of FamilySearch's Family Tree. It discusses the differences and similarities between “new” FamilySearch combines and separates and Family Tree merges, unmerges and person restores.

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  • Ben, I just realized what a neophyte I am at this slideshow thingy. Obviously, if there were sounds, it would be on youtube; is that correct? I still think it's a little dry, though. No personal animus intended at all; I wish I had been in a position to attend your presentations in person.
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  • I would have enjoyed (or gotten more out of) the presentation if there had been a vocal accompaniment. Or, perhaps, stick figure illustrations? The info is good but a little dry..
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Merging People in FamilySearch Family Tree - Presentation

  1. 1. © 2013 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Merging People in FamilySearch Family Tree BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy July 31, 2013 Riverton FamilySearch Library Saturday Seminar October 19, 2013 Family History Support Missionary Training November 13, 2013 Sandy Crescent Stake Family History Training February 20, 2014 Ben Baker
  2. 2. Background • Over 5 years as a Software Engineer at FamilySearch • Currently work primarily on Family Tree with responsibilities over merge-related features • Try to do my own genealogy and help others • I’m here to learn from real users of our services • Hope I’ll be able to help you today • E-mail me ( to get a copy of this presentation or for specific merge-related problems • Click here for the related printed handout materials
  3. 3. Why Merging is Necessary
  4. 4. Lots of Inputs + Imperfect Patrons + Imperfect Algorithms ≈ Lots of Duplication Ancestral File Record Extraction Family Tree More …
  5. 5. What Merge Is • Removal of a duplicate copy of the same real person • A way to choose the best conclusions to improve the data on the resulting merged person What Merge Is Not • An all-purpose clean up tool to get rid of data you don’t like • The same as a new.familysearch combine • The same as deleting a person
  6. 6. new.familysearch Combine Family Tree Merge A B A B A B A’ B Merging B into A will delete (archive/tombstone) B, potentially changing A with some of B’s data. Combining B into A will result in A with B as an “inner person” of A. Data from both persons is preserved and can be selected as viewable values.
  7. 7. Delete Person Deleting a person will delete all relationships that person was in, orphan any LDS temple ordinances and won’t keep a link to the real person. Use with care! Only recommend using when you’re sure the person is fictitious (Ex. wrong gender) Often, a relationship should be deleted or a merge should be done. Man Wife WifeMan
  8. 8. Merge Process Overview
  9. 9. Review the persons in the list and take an appropriate action: 1. If there are people in the list that look like they may be the same real person, click on the Review Merge button to see more details 2. If you’re pretty sure a possible duplicate is not the same real person, click on the Not a Match link and enter a reason why you believe this is not the same real person. 3. If a person shows up in the “Can’t Be Merged at This Time” list, a constraint is preventing the merge.
  10. 10. Star Ranking Levels Possible Duplicates Screen • Shows 3-star and above matches • Estimate 92% of persons presented are real matches • Estimate 97.4% of all real matches are being presented Temple Reservation Check • Will flag if there are any 4-star and above matches • Estimate 99% of persons presented are matches • Estimate 89.5% of all real matches are being presented • Doesn’t show unmergeable persons (including IOUS)
  11. 11. Star Ranking Levels cont. 5-star – Estimate 99.76% are real matches 4-star – Estimate 93.25% are real matches 3-star – Estimate 51.13% are real matches 2-star – Estimate 2.73% are real matches 1-star – Estimate 0.24% are real matches Saw huge drop in Not a Match declarations when 2-star matches were eliminated
  12. 12. Star Ranking Insider’s Tips If you really want to see all of the possible duplicates a person has, including those below 3-stars, you can get them by going to the following URL after logging in. Substitute the person ID of the person you’d like to see the possible duplicates for. You can vary the matchThreshold if you really want too.{personId}?matchThreshold=1.0 If you want to see more information about how well two persons match, their match score in both directions (which may be different), merge constraints, and not a match declarations, enter the following URL after logging in. Substitute the person IDs of the two persons you are interested in.{personId1}/{personId2} ** WARNING** Both of these will give you back data in a “ugly” computer format called JSON. To make it a bit more human readable, Google for a JSON formatter which you can paste the result in to make it more readable. The one I usually use is
  13. 13. Top 10 constraints preventing merges 1. Locked relationship 2. Too many inner persons 3. Forwarded person (Usually just merged) 4. Gender mismatch 5. Multiple membership records (CMIS) 6. Other order only – Must preserve membership 7. Merging would cause loop 8. Locked person 9. Non-Unique IDs 10. Parent and child
  14. 14. Individuals of Unusual Size (IOUS) If the resulting record in would have more than 250 combined records, persons cannot be merged. This is sometimes called an Individual of Unusual Size (IOUS). There isn’t anything that can be done to merge these persons until synchronization with new.familysearch is turned off.
  15. 15. Merge Constraint Insider’s Tip A couple of the merge constraints will give you an indication of what is wrong with a message. For example, When you see two persons that cannot be merged and you’re not sure why, you can get a semi-understandable reason by going to the following URL after logging in, substituting the person IDs of the persons you want to merge.{personId1}/merge/{personId2}/constraint
  16. 16. Terminology for Persons in Merges • Surviving person • Resulting person • Person merged into • Left hand side of merge page • This is the person that will remain when the merge is completed and whose data is changed as specified with data from the second person in the merge. • Duplicate person • Deleted person • Archived person • Person merged away • Right hand side of merge page • This person will be deleted (or archived or tombstoned if you prefer those terms) during the merge. • There will be a pointer or forwarding ID that points to person 1 so you will know where the "real" copy of the person is, but this second person will no longer be active in the system.
  17. 17. What is automatically copied during a merge? 1. Photos 2. Stories 3. Documents 4. Notes 5. Watches 6. Not a match declarations 7. Discussions 8. LDS Temple ordinances Insider Tip Use to test hypotheses regarding what does/doesn’t occur during a merge. There is an out of date copy of data on production ( there. Note: Dismissed research suggestions are cleared on the resulting person after a merge.
  18. 18. Merge by ID
  19. 19. How to Undo Incorrect Merges
  20. 20. Two Ways to Restore After a Merge 1. Unmerge • Undoes all merge changes, restoring both persons to the pre- merge state • Can currently only be done if no changes have taken place on either person since the merge • To unmerge, click on the Show All link in the Latest Changes box to the right of a person who was merged into. Then click on the Unmerge button and enter a reason for the unmerge. 2. Restore Person • Restores the person who was deleted to the pre-merge state, but leaves the merged person alone • Is only option if changes have taken place since the original merge • To restore a person, bring up the deleted person page and click on the Restore Person link.
  21. 21. Merging vs. Combining Undo Rates Between Mar – Oct 2012 1 in every 4 combines was undone by a separate Since Nov 2012 (when merge was turned on) Only 1 in every 30 merges was undone by an unmerge or restore Seems to be greatly reducing churn As of June 2015, ~42,000 merges occur daily
  22. 22. Best Practices
  23. 23. Merge the person with less data into the person with more data • Will result in less changes in the change history • Copying data from the deleted person won’t result in many changes attributed to you • Is more likely to execute quickly and less likely to have an error because there are fewer operations being performed
  24. 24. Resist the impulse to remove data you don’t like (during merge and otherwise) • Completely different alternate names and additional spouses, parents and children that don’t seem to belong are usually indicators of an improperly combined person in new.familysearch. • Support is no longer performing separates, so trying to clean up data to represent a single real person is the best course of action. Making these changes outside of a merge allows for better documentation of the reasons for the changes. • Features are coming to help address LDS temple ordinances being attached to the correct person.
  25. 25. Coming Soon-ish • Ability to view all of the LDS temple ordinances attached to a person • Request that LDS temple ordinances that don’t belong be moved elsewhere • Removal of synchronization with new.familysearch – will allow more merges, including IOUS
  26. 26. Copy all data unique to the right hand side, unless you know it is not correct • My opinion is that relationships and sources should always be added (copied) on a merge • Not copying data will result in it no longer being active in the tree • Not bringing relationships over can make holes in other patron’s trees and reduce the likelihood of true matches showing in Possible Duplicates. • I believe if you really don’t want a relationship or source on the resulting merged person, you should delete it before or after the merge with its own justification.
  27. 27. Collaborate with other users • If you see people doing merges that don’t make sense, help them understand what they did wrong in a kind way • Call support if there are problems with “merge wars” • Another feature coming really soon is reporting abuse of data
  28. 28. Specific Examples and Frequently Asked Questions
  29. 29. The core question to always ask is: “Are these two persons the same real person?”
  30. 30. Common Scenarios 1. I see some children belonging to two parents and others belonging to a single parent with the same ID as one of the coupled parents • This is actually not a case for merging • The first thing to do is make sure all of the correct children appear under the couple. If any don’t, you need to add a relationship from the child to both parents. • Then go and delete the single parent relationships to each child 2. The same spouse, child or parents a person already has appears on the right on a different line of the merge page when I’m choosing what to Add/Replace/Reject. • Make sure you add (copy) the relationship to the merged person • This is likely another duplicate that also needs to be merged 3. See Additional References in syllabus for additional scenarios
  31. 31. Question Why can’t you give an indicator as to whether there are any possible duplicates on a person? Answer The call to check for possible duplicates uses a fair amount of system resources, so we don’t want to do this every time a person page is opened. We are looking into ways to speed this up and/or provide better mechanisms to let patrons know when possible duplicates exist.
  32. 32. Question Should I mark a person as Not a Match if I’m not sure they are the same person or not? Answer It depends. If you’re worried about other people merging them and want to do more research it may be a good option, but remember Not a Matches will not appear as Possible Duplicates.
  33. 33. Question What if I know a person matches, but doesn’t show up in the possible duplicates list? Answer After clicking the Possible Duplicates link from the person page, click on the Merge by ID tab. Copy the ID you would like to merge into the text box and proceed with the merge as usual.
  34. 34. Question What happened if I went through all the steps to merge, clicked Finish Merge and I get a pink message that these persons can’t be merged? Answer Most likely you have encountered a bug. Please call support to report it or send an e-mail to The only legitimate reason this message should appear after initiating a merge is that it took more than 5 minutes. This is another constraint of the system that will be resolved when synchronization with is off and merging will be much quicker.
  35. 35. Question What if I get a pink message after trying to unmerge or restore a person? Is that an error too? Answer Yes, most likely. Please follow the same steps as listed in the previous question.
  36. 36. Question What happens to LDS temple ordinances during a merge? Answer Any ordinances on the person deleted by the merge are automatically copied to the resulting person
  37. 37. Question What happens to photos and stories attached to a person during a merge? Answer Any photos and stories on the person deleted during the merge will be copied to the resulting merged person.
  38. 38. Question Why don’t merges show up in the watch list even though they do show up in the watch e-mails? Answer They do now. Significant changes to the watch list have been made recently to improve the watch list and changes to people you are watching.
  39. 39. Additional References to Learn More
  40. 40. User’s Guide Community/en/FamilySearch/FamilyTree /pdf/familyTreeUserGuide.pdf
  41. 41. /family-tree-curriculum/818
  42. 42.
  43. 43. Additional Q & A