FamilySearch Family Tree -- Where did it come from?

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This page was last updated on February 8, 2017.

What Is Family Tree?

FamilySearch Family Tree is an updated approach to organizing and preserving your genealogy online. FamilySearch Family Tree (FSFT) is free, available to everyone, and provides an easy way to share information, compare research, and go further faster by working together. In Family Tree you can:

Where Did It Come From?

After first becoming available by invitation only in September 2012, there have been thousands of individual records added directly to Family Tree. The information for these recent records was entered directly and did not come from existing databases. Still more records have been added since FSFT was opened to the general public in March 2013.

Several different legacy databases of information were combined to create Family Tree in mid 2012. These same legacy databases were also used in early 2007 to create Family Tree's predecessor, new.FamilySearch (NFS), which data was then added to the Family Tree. NFS and Family Tree continued to be regularly synchronized to keep data current as Family Tree went through numerous testing phases and upgrades.

LDS church members were asked to submit genealogical data to NFS as early as 2007. Submissions continued until new.FamilySearch was changed to read-only in late December 2013.

Legacy databases used to create new.FamilySearch, and later, Family Tree:

Each of these five databases were digitized as separate databases, with separte records. They were then combined as the root of new.FamilySearch, which then has become Family Tree.

Combining these databases is the root of all the confusing and conflicting duplications in Family Tree, and we will have to slowly work our way through it all.

These databases date back to July 1979 and the start-up days of earliest database, known as Ancestral File. There were two separate, parallel programs for members to submit their genealogies: Ancestral File, accessed by way of online communications; and Pedigree Resource File, which was distributed as a set of CDs.

Although no longer updated, both databases still exist today, and it is Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File that are searched when you click on the "Genealogies" tab in the main Search function of FamilySearch:

(Search "Genealogies" at

Changes By "LDS Church Membership" and "FamilySearch"

During late 2013 and early 2014, many users have noted changes to individuals, made either by "LDS Church Membership", or by "FamilySearch". These changes come from information that continues to be moved over from NFS, and in a few cases, from information that was not added into NFS originally. Unfortunately, almost all of this additional information is unverified and undocumented, and is causing frustrating duplication that will need to be reviewed, accepted and merged with existing information, or simply deleted.

The advantage of these new additions is that very soon, all source material previously submitted over that past 30 years or so, will finally be in a single place.

Ancestral File

Ancestral File (AF) provided a backbone for the pedigree in Family Tree, and included family group sheets submitted after July 1979. These member-submitted family group sheets were gathered together into binders and became known as the Patron Section on the 4th floor of the Joseph Smith Building.

As a brief reminder, it was Ancestral File that we used to access at the Family History Library, and at various Family History Centers, and download our own lines to be loaded into our own local databases. People would then submit their trees to Ancestral File, with much of the data simply being duplicated.

(Read the FamilySearch Wiki article for Ancestral File)

Personal Ancestral File

Personal Ancestral File (PAF) was the church's standalone, desktop software meant to be used by members to compile their family trees, and submit names for temple ordinance work, and submit to the larger Ancestral File. First released in 1984, other third-party commercial genealogy programs became available to do similar tasks. Although development ended in 2002, official support for PAF ended in July 2013.

(Read the Wikipedia article for Personal Ancestral File)

(Read more about the end of support for Personal Ancestral File)

(Read a brief history of PAF by Tamura Jones)

New FamilySearch

In 2001-2002, with the growing use of web pages, development stopped for PAF with the intent of having a single online pedigree for everyone. It was not until 2007 that the new web site was released for public testing. Known as new.FamilySearch, or NFS, access was restricted to areas where there were fewer members to allow development problems to be worked out. Access was allowed for members in Utah and Idaho in mid 2009, with worldwide access allowed in November 2009. In December 2013, NFS was changed to read-only, and in January 2015, public read-only access was shut off completely.

On February 9, 2015, access to the NFS database was shut off completely for any software using the API to synchronize online and offline data. NFS was a SQL database, and this cancellation of access to NFS will allow FamilySearch to convert the FSFT database from Oracle SQL, to a non-SQL database structure.

(Read more about new.FamilySearch, as part of a larger Wikipedia article about FamilySearch)

Pedigree Resource File

Pedigree Resource File (PRF) was a collection of genealogies submitted between 1999 and 2010, at which time submitted genealogies were added to the pedigree in New FamilySearch. It shows individuals’ names; family relationships; and dates and places of birth, marriage, and death. No merges, corrections, or additions are made to genealogies submitted to Pedigree Resource File.

The PRF was also added to get the pedigree in Family Tree going - but mostly added more duplication. These were member-submitted GEDCOM files and were compiled into a separate set of CDs that were both sold, and made available at Family History Centers.

A lot of the later PRF submittals were based on GEDCOM data submitted earlier by other members, and simply resulted in still more duplicated entries.

(Read the FamilySearch Wiki article about the Pedigree Resource File)

International Genealogical Index

Known usually as the IGI. This index includes standalone two-generation information, i.e. parents for children, and children for parents. The IGI pre-dated both Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File, and was distributed as microfiche.

The IGI can be separated into two groups:

1) Member-submitted records ("Community Contributed")

2) Extracted records ("Community Indexed") that are made up of information from the Family Record Extraction and Stake Record Extraction programs.

Unfortunately, as the information was extracted from a large variety of sources such as public records, time and resources were not available to verify the accuracy of the data. This lack of verification is only now (since 2012) becoming painfully obvious as extracted information from the IGI is now available side-by-side with all the other information in the single Family Tree on FamilySearch.

In 1969 the Church started listing all new proxy ordinances in what was called the Computer File Index, with the information being published on microfiche in 1973. In 1981 this Computer File Index became the International Genealogical Index, containing 81 million entries. In 1998 the ordinances from the International Genealogical Index were transferred to the Ordinance Index.

(Read the FamilySearch Wiki article about the International genealogical Index)

(Read more about the IGI at the Ancestry Insider blog)

(Access the IGI collection at FamilySearch)

LDS Membership Records

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has only a few scattered membership records before 1847. Most membership records began in 1877. Membership records usually include information about births, marriages, deaths, and Church ordinances.

Most ward, stake and mission clerks used one of six standard formats for membership records, while some wards, stakes, and missions created their own forms. Some membership records include an index. The indexes are usually alphabetized only by the first letter of the surname and include only individuals who have their own entry. Parents and other individuals mentioned within the entry were not indexed.

The Family History Library and Family History Centers have access to membership records on microfilm to about 1940 and the Annual Genealogical Reports up to 1948. To find film numbers for ward, branch, conference, stake or mission records do a Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog for the town where the congregation was located.

For records from 1949 to 1983, you must go to the Church History Library in Salt Lake City.

(Read the FamilySearch Wiki article about LDS Membership Records)


GEnealogical Data COMmunications (GEDCOM) is a data structure created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for storing and exchanging genealogical information so that many different computer programs can use it. It is identified by the file type ".ged".

GEDCOM files were submitted to NFS after it was started in 2010.

(Read the FamilySearxch Wiki article about GEDCOM files.)

Family Group Records Collection

You have to be a member of the LDS church to see both the Archive Section and the Patron Section online because of ordinances that are on these records.

Archive Section

This section of the Family Group Records Collection contains five million family group records submitted by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between 1942 and 1969. The Archive Section of the Family Group Records Collection was previously available to the public in binders marked with pink labels on the spines. The collection is not complete; some patrons removed some of the records before microfilming could be completed. The records are now available to the public only on microfilm.

As ordinance work was completed, each sheet was stamped with the date of completion, making these sheets excellent records of ordinance work completed prior to the use of computers. These pink-labeled binders were available on the 4th floor of the Joseph Smith Building.

(Read the FamilySearch Wiki artticle about the Archives Section collection)

(Read the description of the Archive Section at FamilySearch -- includes a link to access the collection)

There are 5,337,178 images for you to browse. These records are not indexed, but clicking on the link lets you choose the first letter of a surname and it is further broken down by last names.

Patrons Section

Three million family group records were submitted to the Patrons Section between 1926 and 1979 (submittals after 1979 became part of Ancestral File). The purpose was to share genealogical information and identify others working on the same lines. Each collection has some names that cannot be found in other filmings. The family group records often included a brief list of the sources used to compile the record. Sometimes the sources specify old film numbers or book numbers used by the Family History Library. Some records also included biographical histories for the family members listed on the form. In many instances several records have been submitted for the same family unit. Comparison of these records will sometimes reveal discrepancies. The collection binders have been removed from circulation so these records are available only on microfilm.

(Read the FamilySearch Wiki about the Patrons Section collection)

The Patron Section was the member-submitted sheets, and was the basis for the original Ancestral File. These were in the form of family group sheets stored in binders available on the 4th floor of the Joseph Smith Building.

An Example

As an example of duplicate submitted data, here is an online entry for information from the Patron Section for one of my ancestors, Peter Hofheintz. This page shows the submitters, and the film with the sheets that were submitted. The film numbers are shown, meaning that the microfilm can be accessed and viewed at either your local Family History Center, or at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

(View Peter Hofheintz in the old pre-2003 Ancestral File)

If you go to that same person in Family Tree, you will see all the duplicate submittals in the "Other Information" section.

(View Peter Hofheintz on FamilySearch) (sign-in required)

The Patrons Section predates 1979 and the beginning of the submittals to Ancestral File. There is valuable information on most of the sheets in the Patrons Section, including sources and biographical information that was included to document the information being submitted.

Maybe someday the Patron Section submissions will be microfilmed and indexed, and made available online like the Archive Section. But with 1600+ rolls to be digitized, if they are ever digitized, it may be a while. If and when it happens, there will be a note saying "This collection is now online", with a link.