Updated 3 February 2021
As you climb your family tree, you'll run into conflicting facts. How can you attach records to the FamilySearch family tree while explaining the contradictions?
Reason To Attach Boxes Make FamilySearch a Unique Genealogy Website
Reason statements are unique to the FamilySearch family tree website. Unlike Ancestry or MyHeritage, where you can control the changes made on your tree, this free online genealogy website focuses on collaboration.
To ensure family historians work well together, each change on the family tree comes with a "Reason to" box where researchers explain their changes and source additions.
If you ever find yourself frustrated that someone is changing your family tree, recognize you are changing someone else's research as well. Help reduce redundant efforts by explaining the decisions you made.
Since their online tree rollout in 2012, FamilySearch has discovered that inaccurate changes to the family tree decrease as users attach sources to the tree and write effective reason statements.
Your "Reason To Attach" Explanations Should State Facts, Not Feelings
Genealogy research depends on logical reasoning and documentation. When a user of FamilySearch types, "Because it felt right" or "I was inspired that this is correct," you should chuckle.
Base your conclusions and decisions on facts directly stated in documents or reasonable conclusions based on a series of facts.
Basic Steps to Writing A Quality Reason Statement
Follow these simple steps for writing a sufficient "Reason To" explanation.
Find a Source or Your Ancestor
For this example, I found an index to a Kentucky Death Record on FamilySearch. Experienced genealogists know that an index is derived from original records. Therefore, one always attempts to view the original sources upon which an index is based.
Let's pretend that FamilySearch does not offer the original image. It's okay to use other genealogy websites and offline sources with the free family tree.
In this example, Ancestry had the original death certificate for my 3rd great-grandmother!
Birthdate: 8 Dec 1836 Birthplace: Kentucky Death date: 12 Nov 1913 Death place: Campbell, Kentucky, United States Ancestry.com ” Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1963“
Evaluate the Facts on the Documents
Check out the cool facts on this document!
Parents: Wm Stone (of Pennsylvania) and Mary Ann (of Kentucky).
Informant: William Peak of Columbus, Ohio.
Death Place: She died in Dayton in a Hospital.
Burial Location: Evergreen Cemetery in Bellevue, Kentucky
Cause of death: Pneumonia Lobar.
This source belongs to Emily Stone Peak because it provides similar evidence to what I knew from Emily's gravestone. Additionally, I have census records and a marriage record that documents Emily Stone marrying William H Peak.
However, I can’t read the word between Dayton and the hospital. Hopefully, someone can read it.
Finally, since Willam H Peak had died in 1880, the William Peak identified as the informant on this document is likely her son William Talbot peak, who is of age to perform this duty.
I have concluded that this death certificate documents my ancestor. I can link the index version on FamilySearch to the Person Page. Additionally, I can create a custom source with the Ancestry record link for Emily.
Explain the Type of Information and Identify the Document.
When attaching the index to Emily's Person Page, I will write a different explanation than the original document. First, I need to specify what source I reviewed and the information contained therein.
An index to the death record for Emily Peak of Bellevue, Kentucky. The index recorded her name, death date, and place as 1913 in Dayton, Campbell, Kentucky, with parents Wm Stine and Mary Ann.
Logically Explain Why You Are Linking The Person to the Source
Once you detail what the document states, explain why you chose to attach the evidence to your ancestor. For me, I am
The death year on the index supports the death date discovered on her gravestone near the place where Emily was buried.
Keep it simple whenever possible—Reserve lengthier explanations for when information contradicts your previous research or needs further explanation.
When you have completed your reason statement, attach your documentation to your ancestor in the family tree.
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An Example For Conflicting Evidence
For the original document on FamilySearch, I needed to create a custom source for a web link. After following the instructions found here, I now need to write a different explanation with the same foundational principles.
The original record, available at Ancestry.com in their “Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1963” Collection for Emily Stone Peak. The informant for the information was William Peak of Columbus, Ohio, likely Emma's stone as her husband was deceased at the time of her death. The death certificate details her death place and cause of death. It records that she was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Bellevue, Kentucky.
Before I can include her parent's information, I will handle the contradiction between the marriage index stating that Emily's father was Wm Stine and the original death certificate stating his name as William Stone.
While the death certificate provides the likely birthplace of Emily's parents, the original record and the index on FamilySearch conflict. The handwriting on the death certificate for Wm Stone has such a narrow letter "o" that the surname could be confused for Stine. However, the letter 'o' in hospital has the same shape as the 'o' in stone. Additionally, other documents for Emily Peak indicate that her maiden surname was Stone and not Stine.
How To Handle Conflicting Records on FamilySearch
The nature of FamilySearch encourages an organic approach to climbing your shared family tree.
Do you need to return to the reason statement for the death index source?
FamilySearch records the date someone attached a source to a person and who attached the source. Other researchers can follow your process by investigated the dates sources were added. Leave the indexed statement along and allow the 'follow-up' statement from the original source to correct the first attached source.
While my example of what to do when sources contradict each other, you can read another example from FamilySearch on how to write your explanations.
Reason Statements Are Not Genealogy Proof Arguments
According to the Board of Certified Genealogists, "a genealogy proof argument involves a detailed, written explanation of the evidence and reasoning used to reach a genealogical conclusion."
There is a time and place for such lengthy analytical reports. If you need to write a full genealogy research report to explain your conclusions regarding conflicting evidence, do the following.
Follow the steps for using a basic reason statement when attaching a source.
Mention conflicting evidence and where your research report is located.
An example of such a reason statement looks like this:
A death certificate for Charles Gordon, who died in Franklin County, Ohio. This source does not identify his parents or their birth location. This conflicts with research previously linking him to Nathaniel Gordon of Wilkes County, North Carolina as his father. To read more about why Nathaniel is not Charles' father, visit the notes and documents section on this website.
Then, I can attach my research report. Oher researchers can review a summary of why I broke the link between Charles and Nathaniel in the "Reason to Attach" box. Or, they can read the lengthier report in the Memories Section.