Welcome to the end of my genealogy blogs (Check out Genealogy 101, Genealogy 102, and Genealogy 103). We’ve explored the most popular search methods on Ancestry, and now I want to comment on some of Ancestry’s other resources.
Family Trees is the first resource I would like to talk about. The most important thing to keep in mind when using Family Trees is that they are all created by people like you and me, and Ancestry offers no quality control of the information presented. There may be the occasional tree created by an accredited genealogist, but most are “homegrown.” That doesn’t mean anyone is purposely posting bad information, it just means that everyone is human and capable of making mistakes and not everyone has enough research experience to understand how helpful accuracy can be. So, buyer beware.
There are two types of trees, Public and Private. To find the trees, you need to do a Search (All Categories) for an individual, and then filter by Family Trees from the categories. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see the option to filter again between Public and Private trees. Since you’re at the library, go ahead and filter out the Private trees. Those can only be viewed with permission from the tree owner, and you need an account with Ancestry to contact the owner for permission. If you’re curious why some trees are private, one reason could be user concerns about too much personal information being available through a public tree.
Your result list is similar to what you get when searching official records. To help you narrow in on the correct trees, Ancestry will always include the six categories you see in these examples, or as many of the categories as the tree owner has filled in.
Ancestry will also include stats on how many records and sources the tree owner has attached to the individual, as well as letting you know if there are any pictures. I particularly like the inclusion of this information, because I tend to think that researchers who take the time to attach sources and additional information, like photos, care more about the accuracy of their information and therefore will be safer resources for my research, but that’s not always the case.
That’s what the boxes in white denote, facts with sources attached. If you click on any white box, it will draw a line to its attachment. Or, click on the source link in the box to get a pop up with information on all the attached sources.
Cathy is looking promising as a researcher, but if you switch from Facts to LifeStory (which is the same information in a more narrative form), you will see that George’s second son goes from being born in Ind. to India. If you look deeper into this son, you will discover he wrote his place of birth as Ind. in his marriage record.
Maybe Cathy’s not old enough to remember the old state abbreviations, or maybe she was trying to be a good researcher and transcribe the information exactly as it was in the original record. Either way Ancestry’s automated system that transfers Facts to LifeStory didn’t recognize what Ind. meant and created confusion and misinformation by changing the birthplace to India.
The picture attached to George’s name is an example of how inaccurate information can be passed from tree to tree. From the people’s dress, it was obviously taken in the 1940’s, but George’s corroborated death date is 1915, so it clearly can’t be him in the picture. When I followed the picture link, I discovered Cathy had gotten it from another tree that had identified it wrongly. So, half a dozen trees giving the same unsubstantiated fact doesn’t make that fact correct. One of the six could have posted the wrong fact and the other five copied it.
To see Cathy’s actual tree, find the box near the upper left-hand corner, with the Tree name. There will be three options: view the tree, view all of the owner’s uploaded information for every record in the tree (Media Gallery), or view the family information of the record you’re on (Family Group Sheet).
This is the Cathy Davidson family tree. If the tree you are viewing is a large one, where the owner has filled in a lot of ‘ancillary’ branches to their family…meaning full family information on uncles, aunts, cousins…then the sheer size of the tree can be daunting and confusing. To help with that, note the miniature tree in the left hand corner. The highlighted box inside shows you where you are on the tree and how much of the tree you aren’t seeing on the main screen. As you move the main screen around, you will see the highlight box move in relation, always showing your current position in relation.
There are additional navigation links right below the ‘map’ square. For this tree, Private is referring to the tree owner’s record. Oscar shows the owner’s line of descent from George, with Delores being the next step down, and George is there because he was our original record. All of them are clickable links.
One other quick feature to address, Tree Search is a relatively new function. I believe it is still a Beta feature. However, I already found it useful. In writing this blog and opening different branches of the tree, I lost my original starting place, and I lost Delores Louis. To confirm my understanding of the links in my screen shot, I used the Tree Search to find Delores and reorient myself on the tree. So, I think this could be a very handy feature.
You can browse the boards by geographic location (large to small) or topic. If you just want to see messages about a specific surname, you can use the search box, or browse to your name with the alphabet links. I kind of like the browse method because you will be reminded of alternate spellings of the name you’re searching. As noted before, it’s good to be flexible in our searching.
There’s the Advanced keyword/name search as well. I, personally, haven’t made much use of it because I like browsing through responses in case I find unexpected nuggets of information. That said, I probably should try it more often. I especially like the time limiter. The boards aren’t as heavily used as they used to be, and messages from six or ten years ago aren’t always applicable anymore.
If you are using the Message Boards through the library’s Ancestry account, you won’t be able to post messages. Here is a work around that will let you access the boards without an Ancestry account. You can even do this from home. Go to https://home.rootsweb.com/, click My Account, and sign up. There’s no cost and you will be able to post on Ancestry’s Message Boards.
One research tool I won’t talk much about is the Card Catalog. I recently watched an Ancestry help video that advocated using the Card Catalog most of the time, https://www.ancestry.com/academy/course/ancestry-card-catalog. You’re welcome to see what you think. For myself, I’ve never had much luck using the catalog.
One search suggested in the video was for surnames. I tried two names that I know have histories here in Ancestry and couldn’t get them to come up. The records I found when searching for places were the same records I would have found through the All Category Search. The only place I found it useful was when I really wanted to narrow down to specific collections, like Revolutionary War and Civil War records.
Please do not let my difficulties dissuade you. Watch the video, play with the search, and maybe you will have better luck.
The help video actually segues into the last thing I want to talk about before I close. Help resources for using Ancestry. You have a lot of options.
When you are on Ancestry, you can always utilize the Learning Center. I am not fond of this resource. In my opinion, the choices are too focused and limited when you consider how much help Ancestry has to offer.
Another possibility is the little Tutorial button that pops up when using some of Ancestry’s pages. It offers a video with information tied to the page you are using.
Beyond Ancestry, you can always use the library’s EVPL Academy. It offers a nice, trilogy of simple training videos and help pages for Ancestry: Ancestry Library Edition – Genealogical Records of Billions. They specifically cover using the Card Catalog! And best of all, you don’t have to physically be at the library to access it.
If you want to go in-depth, try Ancestry’s support page. Though it suggests you sign in, it isn’t required for using the help pages. Just follow the subject link of interest to you. The circle links, specifically Search & Records and Family Trees, will be of most use to Ancestry Library Edition users. Again, you don’t have to be at the library using Ancestry Library Edition to access the pages.
You can also use the tried and true www.youtube.com and do a keyword search. You will find official Ancestry videos as well as numerous other source videos. As with the family trees, YouTube videos are created by individuals who may or may not be as expert as they think. So, unless you are watching an Ancestry video, take what you learn with a grain of salt until you’ve had time to investigate the accuracy of the help.
And, that concludes my Genealogy blog series. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read part or all of the series. I hope you gleaned some beneficial knowledge for your own research and enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!