As I mentioned in my last post about the “Other Relationships” feature at FamilySearch, I’ve been updating the FamilySearch Family Tree with my conclusions about my husband’s 3rd-great-grandmother, Barsheba (Tharp) Dyer (1813-1899), and her ancestral line. I had written a proof argument and a couple research reports that I wanted to upload to the memories and sources sections of the relevant ancestors. I also wanted to attach important sources. When I got to Barsheba Tharp’s mother’s father, John West, whom I had researched extensively last fall, I found that his profile was merged with several other men named John West and had extra wives, children, and parents that were mixed with his actual family members. At first, the prospect of untangling the dates, sources, and relationships was daunting. However, I decided that since I had already researched my John West extensively, I just needed to research the other John Wests enough to have an idea of where they lived, their relationships, and some sources.
Unmerging the profiles and updating them with sources took several hours of work. In the end, I was very satisfied and felt the effort was worthwhile. I use the FamilySearch Family Tree for many purposes, and it’s important to me that it’s correct. You may feel the same, if you like to search within the FamilySearch Family Tree for end of line ancestors in your DNA matches’ trees, find cousins to collaborate with, and preserve your research for generations to come.
In this post I will share what I learned about unmerging and restoring the profiles of the multiple John Wests. These are the steps I took:
- Open the change log for the profile that has several people of the same name merged together.
- List all the same named individuals who were deleted as a result of a merge along with their ID numbers in a document.
- Open the profiles of each deleted person and review their birth and death dates. Open the deleted person’s change log to see who their parents, spouses, and children were before the merge. Note in the document.
- Research each individual of the same name to find sources for the facts in their profile. Save links to these sources in the document.
- Restore each separate individual’s profile, update vital facts and places, and add the sources found.
- Add an “alert note” to each profile letting other users know that important research has been done about this individual and they should not be merged with other individuals of the same name who lived at the same time.
Now I’ll walk through these steps in more detail.
1. Open the Change Log
Open the change log for the profile that has several people of the same name merged together. On the person page, you’ll see a sidebar on the right side of the page. Look for the heading “Latest Changes.” At the bottom of that box, you’ll see “show all.” Click that to open the full change log.
Scroll to the bottom of the change log to continue to load older changes. Scroll all the way to the bottom when there are no more changes to load.
After scrolling to the bottom of the change log, you will be able to see the original details about the person with this ID number. In the screenshot above, you can see that the profile for John West with ID LJ5P-SFM was originally created in 2014 by a particular user and that he had a child named Henry and a wife named Sarah Broadwater. Over time, his profile was merged with at least 2 other different John Wests, and many more duplicate profiles for those 3 main John Wests.
2. List Same-Named Individuals
List all the same named individuals who were deleted as a result of a merge along with their ID numbers in a document. You will do this by scrolling from the bottom of the change log upward until you find the first merge. You will see a “deleted person” and a “surviving person,” each with unique IDs. Click on the deleted person’s name and open the deleted profile in a new tab.
This deleted person’s profile will have a label at the top that says “deleted.”
In order to keep track of each deleted profile and the relevant details, create a document. I made a table to easily compare vital facts and relationships. I started by listing the current (bloated) profile that included four wives and 13 children. I knew there were at least two men merged together, maybe more. Then I started listing the deleted individuals’ names and ID numbers.
3. Open the Deleted Profiles and Review Their Info
Next, I listed in my document the vital information for each deleted individual. To more easily accomplish this, open the profiles of each deleted person in separate tabs. From here you can review their birth and death dates. Deleted individual’s profiles do not show any familial relationships or sources – just vital information, memories, and change log.
Fortunately, you can open the deleted person’s change log to see who their parents, spouses, and children were before the merge. Relationship information is important for identifying unique individuals. In the screenshot below, this deleted profile for John West who married Sarah Broadwater was a true duplicate that needed to be merged. Often a duplicate is created when someone creates a parent for their ancestor, then realizes that parent is already in the tree. The profile below included John West and Sarah Broadwater with supposed daughter Matilda Anne Broadwater West. I later found that this daughter actually belonged to this John West’s second wife. This John West who married Sarah Broadwater seemed to be the main profile that was separate from my John West. It included parents that didn’t belong to my John West.
As you go through the change log and note relationships, dates, places, and sources in your document, you should have a pretty good idea of which individuals are unique and need to be restored.
One of the deleted profiles I found in the change log belonged to my John West of Fauquier County, who I had researched extensively and prepared a research report about. He was married to Bathsheba Arnold first, and Sarah Webb second. I noticed that the user who added him believed his name was John Thomas West Sr. and that he had a son named John Thomas West Jr. I thought this was interesting since I had found over 30 sources for John West of Fauquier County, Virginia, and Hawkins County, Tennessee, and none of them included a middle initial or middle name. However from the wives and children, it was clear this was the profile I needed to restore for my John West.
Although you might have ideas about who is who after this step, stop and go slow! Before you make assumptions about which relationships are correct, it’s important to do your own research and validate the information.
4. Research Each Same-Named Individual
Before restoring the unique individuals who were incorrectly merged into one profile, it’s important to fact-check the vital information and relationships and find sources to support or refute the conclusions.
I had already researched my John West of Fauquier County, so I needed to research the other John Wests and more fully identify them through their residences and relationships.
As I performed research about the various John Wests, at first I wasn’t sure which information belonged to who. I began saving links to the sources I located at the end of my notes document. Some of the sources were authored, and others were original. Before believing the authored sources, I tried to validate them with original records created near the time of the person’s life.
I found an index of marriages in Ancestry that was based on family group sheets, which are authored. I didn’t feel the source was high-quality, but it was all I could find at first for the marriage of John West to Sarah Broadwater:
I found the will of a John West written in 1806 and recorded the same year in Fairfax County, Virginia, whose widow was named Elizabeth. She was named as a guardian for John West’s youngest two children. A different guardian was appointed for John’s older daughter. He also had two older children who didn’t need guardians. As I transcribed his will, I had a strong feeling that this John was married to a woman before his widow, Elizabeth, and I suspected it was Sarah Broadwater. The guardianship records and will, all recorded in the Fairfax County will books, were invaluable for piecing this family together.
Ultimately, I didn’t find any original record showing Sarah Broadwater and John West’s marriage. However, I found a few additional authored sources who had come to the same conclusion I did – that John West who died in 1806 in Fairfax County, Virginia, was married first to Sarah Broadwater and second to Elizabeth, and had five children, all of whom were mentioned in his will.
Another one of the unique John Wests was named John Bakeman West, who had a son named John Bakeman West Jr. and two other children. This family appears to have started in Virginia, then migrated to Kentucky and Tennessee. Since the names were pretty different, it was easier to differentiate this family.
5. Restore Each Unique Individual’s Profile and Update Facts
With sources ready, it’s time to restore and update profiles to reflect each unique John West. I decided that the original merged profile would be for the John West of Fairfax County, Virginia. I would restore the deleted profiles for John Bakeman West Sr. and John West of Fauquier County, Virginia. The other deleted profiles were true duplicates that I would not restore.
To restore a person, you simply click the “restore person” button on the deleted individual’s profile.
After you have restored the deleted person, it’s time to edit each new profile to include vital facts, places, correct relationships, and sources. This involved removing incorrect dates, places, and sources from the original merged profile, then adding them to the correct individual. I then uploaded my report about John West of Fauquier County, Virginia to the profile I restored. I also determined that some of the child relationships were incorrect. John West of Fairfax had a couple extra children that didn’t belong to him or any of the other two John West. I detached them and included reason statements like “this individual lived in North Carolina and wasn’t listed in John West’s 1806 Fairfax County, Virginia, will.”
John West of Fairfax County’s profile had several sources and facts that belonged to my John West. For example, he had a residence in Fauquier County, so I deleted that. All the sources from the merged profiles were attached to John West of Fairfax County’s profile, and most belonged to my John West. I detached all of those and reattached them to John West of Fauquier County.
I then created several new sources for the will and guardianship records that I located for John West of Fairfax County. Some of these sources were authored, and some were original, but hopefully they will be enough to discourage further incorrect merges.
Although exact dates and places aren’t always available for individuals living in the 1700s in Virginia, it is possible to estimate these things. This is important to do because the FamilySearch merging algorithm will suggest merging individuals with similar birth and death dates and places. If you leave the birth place blank or as something general, like Virginia, you may have a suggested merge that ends up being incorrect. My goal was to add enough unique information to each of these three profiles so that no more incorrect merges would be suggested. If you unmerge profiles like this, but don’t update and fix each profile, you will probably see that they are suggested as a merge again later.
To estimate John West of Fairfax County’s birth information, I consulted one of the authored sources that listed his parents. His parents resided in Fairfax County, Virginia, at the estimated year of his birth, so I added that specific location to his birth and added a reason statement that said, “John West was probably born in Fairfax County, where his parents resided at the time of his birth.”
The birth place of my John West of Fauquier County is still under question, so I opted to leave his birthplace blank. One hypothesis is that he was born in Virginia, but another strong possibility exists that he was born in England. The 1880 census of his first daughter states that she was born in England, so it’s an interesting clue. The report I wrote focused on determining his parents and came up with no strong leads – but I did eliminate several candidates who lived in Virginia as his parents.
I was able to estimate the year of birth for John West of Fauquier. In my report, I discussed the tax records and censuses he appeared on and how I narrowed the range of his birth to 1761-1767. I copied and pasted the reasoning from my report into the reason statement for his birth year, which was already set to 1764:
Determining John West’s birth year range can be done by correlating land and tax records with Virginia legal context. John West’s first taxation in Fauquier County was in 1787. To be taxed, he must have been at least 16 years old, therefore born before 1771. Also, most people did not buy and sell land until they were no longer an infant (under age 21 according to common law), because infants making land transactions could revoke the agreement when they came of age. If John West was age 21 when he purchased land from Humphrey Arnold in 1788, he was born before 1767. The 1830 and 1840 censuses for John West help narrow down his birth year range even further. John was likely the oldest male in his 1830 household, age 60-69, thus born 1761-1770. He was age 70-79 in 1840, providing the same birth year range. Therefore, a hypothesis for John West’s birth range is 1761-1767. The date currently listed in John West’s profile here is within that range, so I am not adjusting it.
Next, I used the citations in my report to add several sources to my John West of Fauquier County. My method was to go to the sources page for his profile, click “new source,” then paste the citation in the citation field. I then used various parts of the pasted citation for the other fields – date, title, URL, etc. I also pasted details from my report taken from the source into the “notes” field. Most of the sources I added were unindexed deed and court images from FamilySearch.
I didn’t add every source from the report, since I was also uploading the report itself as a source. I also added it as a document in the memories section. I chose important sources that provided evidence for relationships. This particular source, above, provided the important clue that John West witnessed a deed in Fauquier as early as April 1787. That was the first time he was mentioned in Fauquier County, Virginia, records.
To add a document like a research report as a memory and a source, I found that the simplest way to do it is to upload a PDF of the report to the memories section first. Then, go to the sources section and click “add source,” then “add new memory source.” This will allow you to select the PDF that you already added as a source as well.
After creating a new source, it was automatically saved to my source box. Then later, it was easy to add these sources to additional people’s profiles. The source above is a deed from Humphrey Arnold to Gustavus Horner, witnessed by John West. I originally created it for John West’s profile, but then I went to his father-in-law’s profile, Humphrey Arnold, and attached the same deed to Humphrey’s list of sources. To attach a source from your source box, go to the additional person’s sources, click “add source,” then “attach from source box.”
6. Add an Alert Note
After updating each unique individual’s profile to contain only facts, sources, and relationships that truly belong to them, as determined to the best of your ability, you will want to add an alert note. An “alert note” lets other users know that important research has been done about this individual. It stays at the top of the person’s profile. When they click through to the alert note, they can read whatever you wrote in the note.
The alert note that I wrote for John West of Fauquier County and John West of Fairfax County included the same basic information – that there were several men named John West living in Virginia at this time, and please do not merge them unless you’ve reviewed all the vital information, relationships, and sources very carefully.
To add an alert note, look for the notes section in the right sidebar. Click “add note,” then check the box that says “alert note.”
My final step was to update my notes document with information about the John West profiles I restored and updated.
Although the process was quite involved, I was happy with the result. If you have done extensive research about an individual, like I had with my John West, the process will be a lot easier. Merging and unmerging individuals who you don’t know much about is challenging.
Good luck as you separate merged individuals in the FamilySearch Family Tree!