Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Love-Hate Relationship with

The majority of the time I am in love with Other times, I get extremely frustrated - not so much with Ancestry, but with novice researchers - people who add anyone with a similar name to their family tree and who make connections to other people based on guesses and assumptions rather than on solid research. I don't know if that has gotten worse since Ancestry began its television advertising campaign and shows like Who Do You Think You Are and Faces of America have kicked it up a notch. Maybe I'm just more tuned in to the misinformation now.

I love the "Member Connect" feature on Ancestry. I can see who is connecting information from my tree to theirs. Too often, other Ancestry users are mis-connecting people. Recently, I noticed that someone had connected my great-grandfather to a person with the same name who had died 50 years earlier. I wrote to the person and explained the error. He responded that he was grateful that I had written to him and pointed out his mistake. So far, every person I've written to about their mis-connections has expressed their appreciation. However, I've decided that I cannot be the Mis-connected Ancestor cop for everyone in my tree! So I tend only to write when I see an error on my most recent direct line ancestors - about five to six generations.

The television ads from where people talk about how they type in the name of their ancestor and all of the leaves start to appear make it seem so easy. It IS easy - that's what makes it so hard! When I first started researching on Ancestry (after doing quite a bit of research the old fashioned way - offline), it seemed like a breeze. And I admit that I automatically added other people's trees into mine. Fortunately, it didn't take me too long to realize what a big mistake that was - because the other people had not thoroughly done their research and they had connected all of the wrong people. So I meticulously started backing entries out of my tree on Ancestry that I had connected from other people's trees. I no longer automatically add all of those leaf "hints." I leave them there for future reference until I am able to independently verify it is the same person or family.

Another frustration I have is that so many of the trees on Ancestry do not provide source documentation. If you add a document from Ancestry to your tree, e.g., a census record, another researcher can view the document and evaluate it. If I add any information to the overview, such as a death or marriage record, I usually try to add a citation in the Description field as to where my information came from. Often, I'll cite an obituary, a previously published genealogy or book, or just where I found it. That way, other researchers can go back to my original source and determine if my research is valid. Ancestry recently made it possible to Add Media to an event. So, if you have photograph of a tombstone or an obituary that you've added to the media section, you can attach that source to the event. This is a very nice feature.

Another Ancestry tip is one that I picked up from one of my distant cousins-in-law (you know, those folks who are researching another branch of the family, and you get so excited to be researching the same kin that you all become "cousins"). I use the Description field for a timeline entry to annotate census records. For example, I may add a 1900 census record and add the following to the description: Samuel (45), farmer, living with wife Elizabeth (42) and children: Benjamin (17), Nellie (15), and Horace (12). Seeing all of this information on the Overview page helps me see the progression of the family over a period of time. I can easily see when the older children moved out of the family home - mainly, it saves me from having to view each census record just to refresh my memory about the timeline. This is a huge task, and I've certainly not done it on everyone in my tree, but I'm trying to complete this task for my direct line.

Something else that I like about Ancestry's timeline is the ability to add custom events. Sometimes I will add something like "Death of First Husband - William" or "Family moved from Elgin, Illinois about this time" (with my source citation, of course). Sometimes, the death of a child may be a significant event that I want to add to a mother. Adding these events to the timeline provides a perspective and, I believe, helps to tell a person's story.

Bottom line - don't make any assumptions; cite your sources. And love for what it CAN do.

Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian


  1. It's refreshing to find another blogger that likes! I also use the description field for short note and sources. I may use the residence fact for the year of a sibling's death and put "per sister Sally's obit" for example. I also upload all the docs I find so that family members without a subscription can see them and then link them to the correct event - I love that I can see at a glance what records I have. Adding ages for each census record really makes the information stand out because in my family nobody age 10 years between censuses!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Charley! I really cannot imagine doing my research without Ancestry - it has sped up the process so much. I hesitated to make my tree public, but then thought, what's the point if you can't share it? I, too, have some census records where a person's year of birth ranged as much as 15 years! I'll also add another tip. Don't just add a census document without actually looking at the original! It may have been transcribed incorrectly and viewing the original allows you the opportunity to make corrections.