Are you looking for ancestors and bumping up against brick walls? If you are fresh out of leads, consider taking a look at the Community Trees projects on FamilySearch.
FamilySearch Community Trees has hundreds of projects containing millions of people from places around the world. Customary searches in historical records don’t tap into them, and computer algorithms won’t display record hints for them in the FamilySearch Family Tree.
One or more may have the breakthrough you are looking for.
What Are Community Trees?
Community trees projects on FamilySearch are lineage linked or partial family trees based on reliable record sources. A single project may have numerous trees for one geographic locality. Depending on the scope, a project might include people in a small village, an entire parish, a region, or a whole country. The project source could be a specific collection of records in possession of a historical society or genealogical organization spanning a few or many years.
Many community trees are joint ventures between FamilySearch, partner organizations, and participants with special expertise with specific types of records. Because community trees include source citations, they are generally high-quality collections that have less duplication and fewer errors than other projects. Community trees are a wonderful resource often underutilized by FamilySearch patrons.
Darris Williams, project manager for the Community Trees projects, explains, “Community trees are kept separate from other genealogies. Unlike user-submitted trees, nobody can change or update them. That’s all done by FamilySearch.” He also adds, “They are a very good resource for genealogical research.”
They are accessible, protected trees based on good source material. If FamilySearch needs to make changes to update them or add more names, they can do so. No individual can come in behind FamilySearch experts and make spurious changes.
A recent change on FamilySearch.org you might not be aware of is the addition of an option to narrow a search to a specific category, so community trees can be searched separately from other genealogies. You select the collection option from a drop-down arrow at the bottom of the search interface to switch from “All” to just the community trees.
One way to go about searching for ancestors in millions and millions of names is to just look at a specific portion of the trees, by location, name, date, or relationship, combining search criteria in logical ways. This approach to research delivers more potential sources for early records and, where possible, additional ways to compare records for accuracy once they are compiled into searchable trees with family associations.
From time to time, FamilySearch looks for new projects to undertake. One recent opportunity involves working with copied records in possession of a diocese in Spain where the original records have deteriorated and become illegible. In early times, when churches were the state-sponsored custodians of vital records, it was not unusual to have clerks make copies of records so they would not be lost.
What Can I Expect to Find in Community Trees?
In community trees you will find carefully researched records for individuals and relationships. Consider the community trees specialized sources after consulting mainstream genealogical resources such as censuses, parish records, and civil registrations.
Some community trees will have more or less information depending upon the sources. Some are complete, and some will be ongoing projects for many years.
One ongoing project is for Norway. The records are extensive and built from years-long efforts to reconstruct families from genealogically valuable bygdebøker, or farm books. Williams shared, “These records in community trees may be the most direct route to finding your ancestor in Norway.”
If you are looking at very early records and have evidence your lines tie into Welsh nobility, the Welsh medieval database has data for approximately 350,000 individuals living between AD 100 and the 1800s.
The Cole Jensen collection contains extracted information from microfilm by the Genealogical Society of Utah. This is one of the best sources of compiled genealogies for Pacific Island ancestors.
Changes and Updates to Community Trees
Community trees are growing and changing. If you have not looked recently, you are in for a welcome surprise when you see both the number and quality of community trees.
Database managers have developed ways to convert datasets in earlier, incompatible formats into the GEDCOM format, which integrates with the present view of community trees and is a standard for genealogical information exchange. Additionally, FamilySearch periodically refreshes a whole database for a project to add more records as research makes more data available.
One joint project currently being rolled out is based on records from the Mayflower Society. When the project is complete, it will have searchable pedigrees for all known descendants of the Mayflower passengers. According to Darris Williams, that project will be a compilation of some 500,000 individuals!
How to Use the Changes in Community Trees
Recent changes have added new search capabilities for community trees. From the main menu on FamilySearch.org, select Search and then Genealogies. When the interface opens, scroll to the bottom of the Search tool, and pick Collections from “Other Options.” From the drop-down list of collection types, select Community Trees to look only in community trees projects.
On the search screen, decide if you want to show exact matches. Exact matches will mean fewer records to sift through if you are looking at huge datasets, but that setting can also limit potential matches. The exact option, however, is customizable as shown in the tip-text that pops up. If you are deliberate and careful, you can use the search tool to more quickly search for and find what you are looking for.
There is another way to search if you already know a lot about the location where your ancestors came from. You can go to the Research Wiki and search for Community Trees Projects to open the list of projects alphabetically by location. Pick a region and then a record set to search an individual project. The same search tool is used to search a single project within Community Trees.
Use Community Trees to Bring New Life to Your Genealogy Research
Behind-the-scenes efforts are making a difference at FamilySearch. Research specialists working on the various projects around the world are paving the way for you to find your ancestors more quickly and easily.
Next time you visit FamilySearch.org, use Search and then select Genealogies from the menu, or browse the community trees list in the wiki to discover new leads and missing links for your ancestors.