Guiding Principles for Writing Reason Statements on FamilySearch


How to write reason statements on FamilySearch

A reader asked me, “I would love to know the kinds of phrases you enter into that reason statement boxes on FamilySearch.org because I’m always stymied by what exactly to say that explains the situation.”


If you aren’t aware, FamilySearch.org ‘pesters’ you with a box that says “Reason This Information Is Correct” whenever you change any fact on the family tree. If you're unsure what to key into in those boxes, the following principles will help.


Why Don't People Fill in the Reason Statement Boxes on FamilySearch?


Since 2012, I have often wondered why people skip the 'Reason to ..." boxes on FamilySearch. I have come up with two main reasons.

  • FamilySearch doesn't require an explanation of most changes. Except for merging and unmerging and breaking relationships, a user doesn't have to complete the reason box.

  • Researchers don't know what to put in the box to explain their decisions.

Many genealogy researchers do not find value in explaining themselves. They climb their family tree. The "Reason This Information Is Correct" boxes are a hindrance to the speed they can research.


Or, many researchers do not know what to put into these brief boxes?


Why Should You Fill in the Reason Statement Boxes?


There are two major reasons you should take the time to write something in the boxes unique to the FamilySearch family tree. The first benefits you, and the second assists other researchers.


As you research, you make many decisions about why a record belongs to your ancestor, why a source documents someone else, why your ancestor's name should be changed, and so much more. If your family is larger than 5 people, you will quickly make so many decisions that it is next to impossible to remember them all.


Thus, the primary motivation for completing the reason statement prompts is to remind yourself why you made the changes you did. That way, when you look at your research the following day, the next year, or five years from now, you can recall your decision-making process.


The second benefit of completing these prompt boxes helps other family historians. Since FamilySearch is a collaborative tree, other genealogists want to know why you are changing 'their family tree.' If you don't want to start a battle royale innocently, then explain your changes.


Many people complain about this cooperative family tree building environment, but the one-tree approach isn't the problem. Users who don't leave explanations are the biggest frustrations and why many people won't use FamilySearch to build their family tree.



What Are The Fundamentals of Writing Helpful Reason Statements?


Throughout 2013, I often saw people write the following reasons for the changes they made:

  • Duplicate

  • Matches

  • Redundant

  • Census

While I was happy to see someone write a note in the box, these were less than helpful.


There are a few simple steps to writing an effective reason statement on FamilySearch.

  1. Use complete sentences.

  2. Avoid writing "Because I know" or similar variations.

  3. Leave enough information so that you can remember why you attached a source or made a change.

If you follow these three principles, you will rarely write an insufficient note. It might lead to something like this:


This census record has the same birth date and place, first, and last name of Robert Townsend that I have for Robert Townsend based upon a previous birth record.

While this explanation still needs more work, it's much better than "census record" or "I know."


Wouldn't you agree?


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Five Specific Steps to Write An Effective FamilySearch Reason Statements


The fundamentals might provide enough guidance to help you fill in the "Reason To" boxes on FamilySearch. However, if you're like me, I still prefer more clarity.


An effective reason statement on FamilySearch explains the logical steps you took to determine why a change is needed on the universal family tree. It also includes a reference to the documentation you are basing these decisions on.


However, this is not a place to argue with your relatives. According to the FamilySearch Wiki, "The reason fields are not the place to hold a dialog or debate with other users. Please do not use them to post questions or requests for information. If an issue needs to be discussed or if you need to request additional information, use the Discussions feature rather than a reason field."


With that said, here are the specific steps I keep in mind as I complete the reason to boxes.


So, this information isn’t a genealogical proof analysis, but it at least says:

  1. Specify the record I’m attaching or consulting? Your reason statements float through the Person Page on the family tree. Help the explanations make sense by mentioning your documentation.

  2. What information does a source specifically state? If a marriage record says George J. Geiszler's parents are Henry J. Geiszler and Maggie M. Hubby, do not add the middle names or correct the mother's name to Marguertha Magdalena Hoppe.

  3. Explain why this information is correct. For George's marriage record, all details on his marriage certificate, with the expectation of the spelling of his mother's last name, was accurate. Let other researchers know why the information is correct.

  4. Resolve conflicting facts and details. Sometimes the conflicting information is a simple explanation - Hubby should really be Hoppe, and when pronounced with the German dialect, the latter sounds like the former. Sometimes the conflicting information will take paragraphers to explain. Regardless, you either need to include a quick sentence or do the next step.

  5. Direct other researchers to the Collaborate tab or Memories section for further discussion. Suppose your reasoning is more complex, such as the methodology I used to resolve my John Townley brick wall, direct other researchers for a lengthy discussion. You can upload a PDF file and add your conclusions in the documents section. Or you can leave notes in the same-named section on the Collaborate tab.


Examples of Effective Reason Statements


Many situations happen on FamilySearch. Use the following examples as a guide to help you with your own family history research.


Changing the Name of an Ancestor


Magdelana's marriage record, gravestone, the 1870 Census, and birth certificate for her son, George Geiszler, indicate that her Magdalena "Maggie" Hoppe. Her son's marriage certificate listed her last name as Hubby, which sounds similar to Hoppe when spoken in German.


Deleting a Relationship


Born 1801 in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, Charles Gordon has frequently been linked with Lt. Nathaniel Charles Gordon of Wilkes County, North Carolina. While Nathaniel is of an age to be Charles' father, there is no evidence suggesting that Charles was born in North Carolina or that Nathaniel and his wife Mary ever passed through Pennsylvania. For a further explanation, see the Notes in the Collaboration tab.


Attaching Sources


I wrote several blog posts to help you explain your decisions as you work on the family. These include examples for indexed records and vital records. I've also written a blog post entitled, Writing Complex Reason Statements for FamilySearch.


Take Time To Explain Your Decisions On the Famliy Tree


While many people dislike using the FamilySearch tree, I find the free genealogy website helpful and use it for much of my research.


If you're upset that others are changing your family tree and the facts you know to be correct, you have to write more effective reason statements and add more sources to your ancestor.

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