Using Ancestry Trees

With the recent news of Ancestry updating their Online Member Trees I have been thinking over this for a few days now.  Randy’s excellent post describing his experiences with the new interface prompted me to go ahead and explore it for myself and I was quite pleased.  While the changes they have currently implemented are an improvement from my own personal use experience, I am eagerly looking forward to the additional enhancements that are planned that will create an online environment more like Footnote’s that really helps promote social networking.

One of my projects I’ve been working on for the past three years is indexing old issues of the Roanoke Beacon Newspaper of Plymouth, Washington County, North Carolina.  I have a web database of information extracted from the paper and a corresponding blog.  I use these as avenues for sharing the information that I find.  I also will post items to the mailing listservs on Ancestry in order to further get the word out there.  I know that those related to the people mentioned in the newspapers would welcome the chance to read more about their ancestors.  In my experience so far, I’ve received feedback from other genealogists on how an obituary or wedding announcement has helped lead to knew areas of research, or make connections they were previously unable to prove.  That is why I love doing this! However, I’m always seeking ways to further spread some of the information I find.  With the changes at Ancestry, I thought this might be the time to give it another try.  I have an outdated version of my own family tree up, as well as a few other trees, but did not pursue fully linking individuals in them to Ancestry records, etc.

Over the weekend, I uploaded my GEDCOM of individuals from Washington & Martin counties, NC.  I’d initially started doing this file on my own website using TNG: the Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding software.  I had an idea in the past to do a broad community-based approach, so as I collected information about individuals, I would add them.   It had been awhile since I actively added anything of significance to this GEDCOM, so I uploaded it to the Ancestry Online Member Trees.

The upload was very fast, and it was then I discovered that my file was larger than I thought, with more than 700 people.  Those Ancestry shaky leafs immediately started to appear and I started linking people to Ancestry records.  So far, I have enjoyed using the site.  Navigation is easy, pages load quickly, and I am able to quickly see what other Ancestry users have these individuals as part of their tree.  For each newspaper item that I put online, I am linking it to the appropriate people and building up their family trees.

Here is an example of an article I found about an Easter recital of young Emily Harney. The description of the church’s reaction to her recital is precious – could you imagine this being your own ancestor and learning about this? Emily  was only 4 years old at the time too and I wonder if this was ever known to her or passed down to other family members?

There are five names mentioned in the article, and I’ve connected each person to it.  This is especially helpful since often in this time period (late 1800s, early 1900s) , women were identified as Mrs. (insert husband name here).  I n this example, Mrs. P.W. Brinkley is Addie May (Latham) Brinkley,  Mrs. W.C. Hassell is Martha (Ward) Hassell, Emily’s mom was named Hope (Hunter) Harney.  Lossie was the last person I linked up and guess what I discovered?  She married a man name Amos KOONCE! (gotta love it! – now that gives me a new person for my Koonce Genealogy Surname project — more details on that later).

I was able to trace little Emily’s  line forward very quickly in about 30 minutes and found a couple of possible current descendants of hers, one on Facebook. But, at the least, having it online at Ancestry may help anyone actively seeking for her or her family.  So now, as I have time and continue to transcribe these newspaper issues, I’ll begin to do more of this online tree work.   Despite all the advantages I can see with this, the major disadvantage is that you have to be a subscriber to see it.  However, I think Ancestry’s membership is going to continue to rapidly expand, and I always have the option of downloading my GEDCOM and creating reports that I can subseqently share with others in free venues and sites.

Based on my experiences the last few days, even though I do like it tremendously, of course I have suggestions for improvements:

1. Bio excerpt – I would appreciate having a part of the screen where we could put a 2-3 bio of a person so that at a glance I know a bit about them without having to look through the timeline.  This may not be an issue for one’s own personal tree, but I know many of us work on trees of others and individuals to whom we are not related.  There is some blank space currently at the top underneath the birth/death details where this could sit.

2. Know when your photo is used – Since photos & documents posted to someone else’s tree, it would be great to receive notification when this happens. For example, another Ancestry user had a picture of the headstone for Addie May Latham, so I linked that picture to my tree. Did the original submitter receive any notification that I’d done this? I don’t have a lot of pictures on Ancestry, but I’ve never received notifications such as this. It is helpful to see where it is linked when I go to the actual item, but alerts can speed up the process of being informed.

3. Uploading a photo — speaking of photos, currently, when an image is uploaded, the default “type” is set to Photo.  However, Ancestry recognizes several different types – Photo, Site, Headstone, Document & Other.  If you upload an image and it is not a photo, it takes several more clicks to get back to the “Edit Information” screen to change the type.   I would like the option to set the Type on the same screen when I upload the photo.

4.  Photo permanency –  If I attach someone else’s photo to my tree and they delete that photo -does it get deleted from my tree too?  If so, I would like to see this change.  Of course the photo would “belong” to the submitter, but i would like to see copyright options added (such as Creative Commons), that would help facilitate more permanent access — sort of like submitting the photo to Wikipedia/Flickr/Picasa Commons to let others know that it can be reused with appropriate attributions.

5. Ancestry Hints — after I read through all the comments on Ancestry’s post announcing the changes with the online trees, I see that they separated out Ancestry Tree hints from Historical Document hints on a person’s profile page.   That is quite helpful! I would however like to suggest this be extended a bit further. When you are on the “Pedigree View” or the “People with Hints” pages, there is an indication of how many Ancestry Hints you have, but only the number is given. I would like to see these pages offer a visual distinction of if the hint was a Tree vs. Historical hint.

6.  More generations in Descendant View — the current Pedigree view options for descendants only lets you see 2 generations below the selected individual. I would like to see this expanded to 4 or 5 generations.  I think their zoom in/zoom out bar can handle that!  On a related note, last night Randy posted his 2nd post about using the online trees and he comments that moving from generation to generation is still cumbersome and there is a lack of useful reports that can be printed. Agreed! I am sure they will, in time, get around to fixing this.

7. Better customer service — as I’ve been exploring the trees and getting used to them again, I’ve had several questions.  I’ve sent three questions to Ancestry.com – two through their formal help on their website and one through Twitter.  I’ve had no response to any of them.  I could have posted to their blog I guess, but I felt it would be out of place then.

So, I’ll continue to use the online trees to build up this community, and will add more newspaper information but am definitely interested in the next phase and seeing if any of my suggestions make it into the update!