October 22, 2014

Here’s How AncestryDNA is Improving Autosomal Testing

AncestryDNA product image new_1f_screens2You may recall from our recent DNA discussion on the Genealogy Gems podcast (Episode 168) that Ancestry.com recently discontinued their mtDNA and YDNA tests (the two that trace our direct maternal and direct paternal lines) to focus on autosomal DNA (which delivers information about both your mother’s and your father’s side of your ancestral tree).

Well, recently I attended an all-day meeting hosted by Ancestry.com: a summit to talk about current trends and accomplishments at Ancestry DNA, and ideas about the future of DNA testing at Ancestry.com.

The meeting included a diverse group of Ancestry representatives, from CEO Tim Sullivan to members of the marketing, scientific, communications, and even computer science departments, as well as some of the top voices in genetic genealogy. It was an open and lively discussion, and I walked away with a few gems I want to share with you today.

More Powerful DNA Hints Coming

In AncestryDNA, the ‘shaky leaf” hints are meant to help you find a common ancestor between you and your DNA matches. The computer code behind the old hints was not very efficient. Lazy, in fact. It started at the bottom of your tree—and the bottom of your match’s tree—and slapped on a shaky leaf at the first sign of a shared common ancestor.

AncestryDNA shared hintWhile this method worked for a large number of cases, it was leaving a lot of stones unturned. But the IT guys at Ancestry have beefed up the computer power, allowing them to cover a much greater distance through our trees and the trees of our matches before making a judgment about the best place to assign that shaky leaf.

The result? Better hints about how you and your match COULD be related. Remember, the leaf is still just a SUGGESTION on how you and your match might be related. It is not a crystal ball.

 

Did You Know?

  • Ancestry DOES store your DNA samples in a secure location.
  • Ancestry spent months designing their own DNA collection kit.
  • Ancestry was able to attract some of the brightest scientists in the field of population genetics because of YOU. You with your documented pedigree charts and your willingness to help move this science of discovering our ancestors forward.

Looking Ahead

There is no question that the genetic genealogy industry is rapidly advancing, and our discussion with Ancestry certainly didn’t disappoint. While I will be sharing with you in future posts about some of the exciting changes, I do want you to be ready for one that will be coming online fairly soon.

It has to do with your matches. If you have been tested by AncestryDNA, you may have been initially excited, then nearly immediately overwhelmed, by the number of individuals listed in your match page, all claiming to have some kind of connection to you and your family tree.

All three major genetic genealogy testing companies (AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe) are using basically the same laboratory methods to glean information from your DNA. What differs is how they use that data to draw conclusions about your ethnic heritage and about your relationships to other individuals. As it turns out, AncestryDNA has been reporting far more individuals as your relatives than it should have.

Autosomal DNA Ancestry You can think of it like this: You have sent out tickets, in the form of your genetic code, to an exclusive party where you (of course!) are the star. However, you have lost the guest list and you are counting on the testing company to check the ticket of each guest before they enter your party to be sure they were really invited.

AncestryDNA was relatively new in the role of party bouncer, and in the interest of not turning away any VIP guests, they initially allowed guests into your party who had (gasp!) forged tickets!! But as AncestryDNA admits more guests, the experience it’s gained in party monitoring is starting to show.

AncestryDNA forged party ticketsYou see, each of the forged tickets has some unique qualities that have started to send up red flags to the team of scientists at AncestryDNA. They are now in the process of carefully documenting what each forged ticket looks like and tossing those unwanted guests out on their ear.

The short of it: in the near future your match list at Ancestry will be much shorter. Which is good news to you, as it means only those invited genetic cousins will be around eating hors d’ oeuvres and ready to talk about your shared common ancestry.

Each testing company has its strengths and weaknesses. It was good to have a bit of insight into this one company and come to a greater understanding about why it is they do what they do. It is a great time to be in this young genetic genealogy industry, with so much room to grow and change. I will let you know when I find the next genetic gem.

Returning Orphaned Heirlooms to the Family

custom_text_present_14586Recently my Premium Podcast included a letter from Pat, who was looking for advice on how to return lost or orphaned heirlooms to a family. Ancestry.com had a few family trees posted. Pat didn’t know “whom to contact to get the materials to the most interested, closest family members.” This was my advice–and here’s the inspirational report back.

My advice:

I would first focus on the tree where the tree owner is most closely related to the folks mentioned in the memorabilia. I would probably make copies (depending on what the items are) and offer to all. If I didn’t get a confirmed answer from the first choice in a reasonable time I would offer to my second choice. I would ask the recipient to allow me to pass their contact info on to any others who get around to responding after the fact since it’s everyone’s “family”.

Pat’s response:

“I finally took up the challenge, determined to find a family and offer up the material I had recovered. This material contained old (labeled!) photos, school records, dance cards and letters home to Mom and Dad and seemed potentially quite precious.

It proved difficult to determine which family seemed to have the closest connection, so I decided to offer the material to the person whose Ancestry.com tree contained the most (valid) sources. Fortunately, the tree owner was quick to respond, eager to receive the materials I had to offer. I sent them off and the tree owner is delighted as she is the granddaughter to the original party and believes herself to be the only living descendant of that person!

Mailbox question from Beginning GenealogistIt feels just right to get those materials back “home”!  I encourage other listeners to do the same.  It produces a great sense of genealogical balance.  So many others have done blessedly wonderful things for me in my research, making it easy to pay it forward just a little bit.

Thank you for the encouragement and the advice. I have loved both podcasts for a number of years now–you are consistently wonderful!”

Thanks, Pat, both for the compliment and for the inspiring message! I love hearing these kinds of stories.

“Who Else Has Viewed This Record?” Find Living Relatives!

There are lots of ways to find historical records about your ancestors online. Did you know there are also ways to learn who else has added that record to their trees–or who else is researching the same people you are? Here are two ways:

1. On Ancestry.com, when you are looking at an image of a record, there’s a sidebar to your right called “Related Content.” Click on it. Below other suggested records you will see a list showing anyone who has saved this record to their trees. You’ll see a link to that username and you can contact them. This is what it looks like:   Ancestry screen shot who else saved this record

2. On LostCousins.com, you can enter the names of relatives whose names appear on specific censuses. Their database will search for others who are looking for the same people. This is a great resource for people with British Isles roots, as the site originates from there. Here are the censuses they support:

  • England and Wales, 1841, 1881, 1911
  • Scotland, 1881
  • United States, 1880, 1940
  • Canada, 1881
  • Ireland, 1991.

Basic membership at LostCousins.com is free, but has limited functionality. You can only contact new people during certain windows of time during the year. With a £10 annual subscription, you can make new contacts anytime.

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership and Podcast
Looking for more ways to find living relatives? Genealogy Gems Premium members can click here to access my full-length video class, Unleash Your Inner Private Eye to Find Living Relatives. Not a member? Click here to join.

Get the Most out of Ancestry.com Shaky Leaf Hints

Ancestry Shaky LeafIf you’re an Ancestry.com user, you’ve seen those “shaky leaves.” They are automated hints generated when Ancestry.com thinks a historical record or tree matches an individual on yours.

Are you getting the most out of your Ancestry.com shaky leaf hints? Check out this video on YouTube–then keep reading!

In a nutshell: look at all the hints. Then keep searching.

According to the Ancestry Insider blogger, hints are only provided for the top 10% of Ancestry records. I asked our Genealogy Gems source at Ancestry.com about this. He did clarify that this means the most popular 10% of collections, which accounts for “a majority of the records.” But he also comments, “Hints are not meant to be an exhaustive method to flesh out all of the records for your ancestors. People should always search as well as use hints.”

After checking all the hints, I routinely find a LOT more by then searching records from an individual’s profile. Search from the profile rather than the main search screen so some of the other data you’ve already found (like dates and relationships and locations) will be included automatically in the search parameters. I think searching from the individual profile also makes it faster to attach records to your person once you’ve found them.

Click here to hear how one woman used Ancestry.com hints to discover a tree for the biological mother who abandoned her when she was five. You’ll also learn her inspiring message about how moving past her mother on her family tree has helped her move on with her life.

Family History Episode 44: Family Secrets in Genealogy

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastFamily History: Genealogy Made Easy

with Lisa Louise Cooke

Republished 2014

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 44: Family Secrets in Genealogy Records

Today’s episode is unlike any other I’ve done on the podcast. Today we are going to tackle some difficult subject matter: family secrets in genealogy. You know, none of us have a perfect family tree. In fact, I would venture to guess that at some point each one of us who are delving into our family’s past will come across some sad and painful stories. An ancestor abandoned at an asylum, incarcerated for acts of violence, or perhaps who committed suicide.

For Crystal Bell, my guest on today’s show, that sad and painful story was very close to her branch of the tree. In fact, the troubles lay at her parents’ door, and she bore the brunt of the chaos that was created. And yet there is tremendous hope that comes from Crystal’s story. She is a wonderful example of the freedom that can come from facing your fears and breaking down the mystery of a troubled past. It’s what I call the redemptive gifts of family history.

Crystal also shares some of the research strategies that her co-workers at Ancestry.com gave her for taking the next steps in finding her mother, who passed away under an assumed name.

Thoughts from Crystal on responding to the family secrets in your own tree:

“Hatred and resentment only make you look older. They have a great toll on your health. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t hate my mother and father because I don’t know their circumstances were. I can only try to determine their ancestors. I want to know who were my ancestors. Where did they come from?

I feel badly when people…just don’t want to know. I don’t want to die with that sense of abandonment. I want to move on, I want to get past the grief. I want to know who my people were. I just, for the first time in my life, want to experience a feeling of joy and happiness that I feel like I deserve.” 

Ancestry.com “Shaky Leaf” Technology

Crystal made connections on her Ancestry.com family tree by reviewing the automated hints provided on the site, known popularly as “shaky leaves.” Learn more about using these in this video.

MyCanvas

The MyCanvas service mentioned by Crystal is no longer offered by Ancestry.com. But it is still around! Learn more in my blog post about it.

Here’s a final thought for today:

We are not just defined by one relative, or the product of a dysfunctional family or parental relationship. We come from all of our ancestors….

The ones who did amazing things,

The ones who did everyday things,

And the ones who did wrong.

You deserve to know them all, and as the saying goes, the truth will set you free.

Ancestry App Launches With “Solid New Features”

iPad_Landscape_ss2Ancestry.com just relaunched the Ancestry App (version 6.0) for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices.

“This isn’t just a re-launch on a new system,” explained the Ancestry Mobile Team in a recent email. “We’ve worked hard to add some solid new features that we think you’ll enjoy.”

It was only about 6 weeks ago that we reported the last updates to the Ancestry app, but these are worth a separate mention. Here they are as described by the folks at Ancestry.com:

Prioritized Hints View

We’ve added a new section to the application which allows you to view all the hints for a given tree from a single place. We’ve added a prioritized sort order to the hints in this section so that your very best hints automatically bubble up into view. In addition to a priority sort, we’ve made it possible to view hints based on recency, with the newest hints at the top of the list. Near the top of the new hints view you will find sort order controls titled “best” and “latest” which allow you to toggle between these two sort orders to meet your needs. We’ve also included some filtering capabilities for the hints in this section which will allow you to filter hints by the last name of the person the hint is for, or to filter hints by type (photo, story or record). When you see a hint that you’d like to learn more about, simply tap; the details of the hint will come into view and you will be able to accept or ignore the hint from right there.

Comments

Every day thousands of photos and stories are added to Ancestry by users of the website and the Ancestry App. When one of these pieces of great content might be associated with a  relative of yours you will get a photo or story hint and you get to share this content and benefit from the work of other Ancestry users. Now you will have the ability to comment on these shared pieces of content directly from the mobile app – just like you can on the website. When viewing a photo or story you will notice a new comment area within the mobile app, here you will see comments from others and be able to leave comments of your own.

Comments View

The new comments section provides a running history of the new comments that have been left on photos and stories I your tree,  making it easy for you to keep up to date on the latest comments. When you see a comment that you would like to see in full context or respond to, silly tap; you will be taken to the photo or story that the comment was made on and be able to review the entire comment thread associated with the content.

Badges

You may notice a new red badge with a number in it that shows up on the Ancestry app icon. This lets you know that you have new hints or comments to review. We have also included badges on the icons representing the hint and comment sections which allow you to know exactly where the new content can be found.

Notifications

If you have enabled the Ancestry App to send you push notifications you will now be notified when the very best new hints or comments are available. When you are ready to view the new hint or comment, simply tap; the app will open and you will be taken dirtily to the hint or comment.

Tree Viewer Enhancements

In addition to family and pedigree views, you can now view your family tree in a list view. From this view you can filter the list of tree persons by name or using a number of useful filters (Direct Ancestors, End of Line, Living Relatives, People with Hints, and People with Recent Hints). We’ve also added a dedicated person search within the pedigree and family views. Tapping on the search icon In the top left corner of the tree viewer will allow you to enter the name of the person you are looking for. When you see the person you are looking for, simply tap; the tree will be refocused on this person and you will be taken directly to his or her profile details.

Navigation

We’ve simplified and updated the navigation within app. You will notice prominent tabs along the bottom of the app for Hints, Comments, Tree, DNA, and Settings. Getting around the app will now be quicker and easier than ever.

In addition to the major updates highlighted above we have worked on smaller touches within the app that enhance the overall experience. As you use the app in more depth you will likely notice other changes like: quick links to web content, side-by-side comparisons between tree and record data, quick access to profile information from hints and updated colors and styling. We hope that the new version 6.0 app experience will be a good one, and that the Ancestry Mobile App will become an ever more integral part of your Ancestry experience. If you have ideas, thoughts or questions please feel free to submit feedback by tapping on the “Feedback” tab within the Settings section of the app.

MyCanvas Finds a New Home: Alexander’s

Alexander’s, the long time MyCanvas printer will be receiving ownership. Ancestry exec Eric Shoup issued this statement today explaining the transition.

“This past June, we announced that we were retiring the MyCanvas website and service in September 2014.

We’ve heard from many people who love MyCanvas and hate the idea of it going away. Well, we have some good news for you: It’s not going away after all. We listened and decided not to retire MyCanvas, but instead transfer the website to Alexander’s.

Founded 35 years ago, Alexander’s is a Utah-based printing production company that has been the long-term printer of MyCanvas products including its genealogy books, calendars, and other printed products. This makes the transition of MyCanvas to Alexander’s a natural fit.

It’s our hope that this agreement will not change the experience for MyCanvas customers. In fact, Alexander’s plans to make some exciting improvements we think you’ll love. Additionally, MyCanvas will continue to be available from the Ancestry.com website as we believe in the importance of sharing family history discoveries and see MyCanvas as a way to deliver this ability to our customers.

The transition of MyCanvas will take about six months. But in the meantime, all MyCanvas projects will remain accessible on Ancestry.com until it moves over to Alexander’s next year. We will continue to communicate details as the transition moves forward.

We want to thank our loyal MyCanvas customers for all the projects you have built and printed with us over the years. We’re excited about this new owner of MyCanvas—and we think you will be too.”

Alexanders According to Alexander’s website “more than 60 team members work full-time from Alexander’s 45,000 square-foot corporate headquarters in Lindon, Utah.”

Genealogy Gems listeners have already started expressing their relief at the Genealogy Gems Facebook page. Katharine says: “Maybe all the comments helped! I’m relieved.”

Insider Tips for Using Ancestry.com: Family Tree Magazine Podcast – July 2014

FTM podcast logoEvery month I host the Family Tree Magazine Podcast, where I check in with the editors and experts at Family Tree Magazine for a dose of genealogy fun and education.

I thought you would especially enjoy the July 2014 episode: it’s all about tips for using Ancestry.com! Highlights of what you’ll hear:


See what new tricks YOU can learn from this free podcast for maximizing your time on Ancestry.com!

5 Genealogy Resources to Look For at YOUR Public Library

genealogy at the public library

genealogy at the public library

This week, I’m researching at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which has one of the best public library genealogy collections in the United States. They’ve got more than half a million items on microfilm and fiche and 350,000 more in print. Among these items are nearly 50,00o city directories; 55,000 compiled family histories; most National Archives microfilmed military service and pension records….Okay, I’ll stop before you get jealous.

But in fact, MOST public libraries have some good genealogy resources. Have you checked out the library near you lately? OR the local history and genealogy collection in a public library near where your ancestors lived? You may likely find these 5 great resources:

  1. Access to paid subscription genealogy websites like Ancestry.com Library Edition, HeritageQuest Online, Fold3 and other genealogy databases.
  2. Local historical newspapers–or at least obituaries from them. ALSO access to historical newspaper websites like GenealogyBank.com which may have papers you’ll never travel to see in person.
  3. City directories, old maps and/or local histories for that town.
  4. Surname files. These aren’t at every public library, but you’ll often find them in libraries that have dedicated genealogy rooms. These likely won’t be neatly organized files with perfect family trees in them, but collections of documents, bibliographic references and correspondence relating to anyone with that surname.
  5. Other surprising local history resources. For example, my hometown library in Euclid, Ohio, has online collections of Euclid newspapers, history, yearbooks and oral histories!

Euclid LibraryWhat does your library have? Browse its website or call and ask about its local history and genealogy collections. You might even Google the name of the county with the phrases “public library” and “local history” or “genealogy.” Another branch of the same library system (not in your own or ancestor’s town but nearby) might have just what you need to find your family history!

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastWant to learn more about doing genealogy at the public library? Check out two recently republished episodes of Lisa’s Family History Made Easy podcast:

 

 

Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1 Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik talks to us about researching at public libraries. She shares what kinds of things may be at the library (including unique resources), how to prepare for a visit and lots of great tips for making the most of your research time there.

Episode 35: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2 We go deeper into genealogy research at the public library. Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik is back to talk about how to search an online library card catalog including advanced search methods, the unique collections that may be at public libraries, how to ask for exactly what we want, and the obstacles librarians face when it comes to cataloguing large and unique collections that may interest genealogists.

Remember the Sears Catalog? It’s on Ancestry.com

Sears Catalog Fall 1960, Cover. Digital image from Ancestry.com. Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1896-1993 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Sears Roebuck Catalogs 1896–1993. Vol.102–228 K. Chicago, Illinois: Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Sears Catalog Fall 1960, Cover. Digital image from Ancestry.com. Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1896-1993 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Sears Roebuck Catalogs 1896–1993. Vol.102–228 K. Chicago, Illinois: Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Back in “the day,” American consumers window-shopped by mail with the Sears catalog. From 1888-1993, the Sears catalog stocked millions of American households and fed the Christmas lists of men, women and children.

Wouldn’t pages from the Sears catalog make a lively addition to your family history posts, pins, pages and  conversations? Ancestry.com thinks so, too! They’ve digitized the catalogs and they’re keyword-searchable here. (Just a word of advice: browse a certain issue or search for a specific product. A keyword search for “bicycle” brings up over 5000 results through the OCR technology used to find matches.)

According to this brief history, the Sears catalog first launched as a mailer for watches and jewelry in 1888. “The time was right for mail order merchandise,” says the article. “Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, America’s westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. The postal system aided the mail order business by permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge entitling these catalogs the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 also made distribution of the catalog economical.”

Here’s one more blast from the American consumer past: Sears kit houses. Have you heard of these? You used to be able to order pre-fabricated homes from Sears. You could customize one of many standard sets of plans, and all the materials would be pre-cut and delivered to your home, “some assembly required,” so to speak. Learn more about Sears kit houses and see images of several designs (1908-1940) here. Did your family ever live in a kit house? Tell us about it on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!