9 Unique Family Tree Designs That Will Take Your Breath Away

These unique family tree designs–some hundreds of years old–are creative and artistically stunning. Some are about actual families, and others re-create the family tree of an entire culture or empire. Which ones inspire you?

unique family tree designs

These 9 Unique Family Tree Designs Will Take Your Breath Away

I found these gorgeous and unique family tree designs online. Some of them are hundreds of years old; others are much younger. Some are brightly-colored; others are not. Whether murals, wood-carvings, engravings, or drawings, they are all absolutely stunning. Though I may not paint my living room ceiling with images of all my ancestors, they certainly inspire me.

1. A Russian Royal Pedigree Mural

This show-stopping “Genealogic tree of Russian sovereigns” ceiling mural appears in the front vestibule of Moscow’s State Historical Museum. The Museum itself is home to over four million artifacts, but I could probably spend all day just staring at this one.

unique family tree designs

Creative Commons Photo: Wikipedia / Shakko. Click to view full information.

2. A “Crooked” Family Tree

The image below comes from the collection of the Wellcome Library, “one of the world’s leading libraries on medical history and the human condition.” It’s an engraving with no known date or artist attached to it. Although it appears to be a caricature drawing of a family tree, the item description disagrees: “A type of family tree with the parents occupying the centre space surrounded by their progeny with each of the figures appearing to be suffering from some kind of deformity.”

unique family tree designs

Creative Commons Image: Wikimedia, click to view. Credit: Wellcome Library, London, wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

3. A Carved Beauty in a Remote Palace

This is carved family tree of Edward Woynillowicz, found at the Sawiczy palace in the Minsk region of the Russian empire. Edward was the leader of the Minsk agricultural society and a humanitarian leader during World War I. The carving appears to be dated 1905. It’s sure beautiful!

Wikimedia Commons image; click to view. This work is in the public domain in the U.S.

4. “Uncle Sam’s Family Tree”

In 1900, John F. Waite published this drawing of “Uncle Sam’s Family Tree,” along with a folksy description of the history of the United States (or the growth of this “tree”). He cleverly portrays the “grafting” in of various branches or states of the country as they were acquired by conquest or purchase. Here’s the article, and following, a close-up of the tree itself:

5. A Drawing with Great Genealogical Value

This “Family tree of the Weigert Family – showing the birth, etc. of Paul Ehrlich and of his cousin Carl Weigert” is another Wellcome Library image. It’s not just a fancy drawing. Look closely at the detail image shown here, and you’ll see that genealogical information is actually written onto the tree.

unique family tree design

Creative Commons Image: Wikipedia. Wellcome Library, London. wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0. Click to view.

unique family tree design

Creative Commons Image: Wikipedia. Wellcome Library, London. wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0. Click to view.

6. The Family Tree of Noah

This 1749 engraving of the “Genealogical tree of Noah after the Biblical flood” was created by J. Hinton for the Universal Magazine:

unique family tree design

Creative Commons Image: Wikipedia / http://www.peopleofar.com/category/literature/page/2/. This work is in the public domain. Click to view.

7. A Princess and her Pedigree

This portrait of Empress Elisabeth Petrovna (1709-1762) with her family tree provides an at-a-glance family history for this Russian royal. It also dates from the mid-1700s.

unique family tree design

Creative Commons Image: Wikipedia. Click to view. This work is in the public domain.

8. Magnificent Mayolica Mural

This unique family tree design is artfully executed in colorful Mayolica tiles. It’s titled “Arbol geneologico del comienzo del mestizaje” (Genealogical tree of the beginning of the mestizo), by Gorky Gonzales Quiñones (Museum of Artes Populares, Mexico City, Mexico).

unique family tree design

By AlejandroLinaresGarcia (Own work) GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Click to view.

9. A Tombstone Tree

This is a headstone in the burial ground of the Abbey of Dulce Cor in southwest Scotland, better known as “Sweetheart Abbey.” Carved in stone is the Jardine Family Tree. According to a note on the image file, “This is quite substantial; the family tree continues on the other side of the stone.” This creative approach to sharing your family tree isn’t cheap. Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton shared with me a recent article in Ohio Genealogy News that priced “tombstone tree” carvings at $10,000 or more. But this is certainly a lasting monument. (Just make sure your tree is right before you invest in a project such as this one.)

unique family tree designs

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia Image: click to view.

More Unique Family Tree Designs on Pinterest

Pinterest Lisa Louise CookeOne of my Pinterest boards offers even more unique family tree designs and other heritage decor for your own halls, walls, and display areas. Click here to take a look at my How to Display Your Family Tree board–then follow me on Pinterest to keep track of the genealogy eye-candy I share there!

Getting Started on Ancestry.com

Getting started on Ancestry.com can be a little daunting. As one of the world’s top genealogy websites, it’s packed with information about millions of people–perhaps including your ancestors. These step-by-step instructions will help you start building your family tree and learning more about your heritage.

getting started with Ancestry

Here at Genealogy Gems, we regularly spotlight the world’s top genealogy websites, or what we call the “genealogy giants.” Ancestry.com is one of them. If you’re ready to explore your family history, Ancestry.com may be a good choice for you, especially if you’re ready to invest a little money.

Before we take you step-by-step into Ancestry.com, these tried-and-true principles will make your foray into family history more accurate and rewarding:

  • Start with your own generation and work backward in time. You’ll use what you already know about more recent generations to learn about more distant generations. You’ll likely trace any individual ancestor’s life history in reverse, too.
  • Build your family tree with information about your relatives in old documents: names, dates of birth/marriage/death, places they lived, where they are buried, the identities of their loved ones. Giant genealogy websites like Ancestry.com give you access to millions of old documents that may mention your ancestors.
  • Some historical sources are more reliable than others. The best information often comes from eyewitnesses who created a record at or near the time of the event (like the baptismal record created by the priest who baptized an infant). That said, gather data from as many reliable, independent sources as possible–because anyone could get something wrong.
  • Spelling and dates weren’t always consistent or precise in the past. So don’t be put off by a “creative” spelling of a name that otherwise seems like your ancestor or a birth date that’s off by a year (or even a few).

Learn more beginning genealogy strategies in the free step-by-step Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast. Now, keeping these principles in mind, let’s get started on Ancestry.com.

Getting Started on Ancestry.com

Orient yourself by watching this one-minute video by Ancestry.com–and then we’ll break it down for you below:

1. Set up your Ancestry.com account.

Choose one of these options:

A free guest account. This will allow you to:

  • build a family tree (your relatives can help if you invite them)
  • upload and share photos and stories about your ancestors
  • find others who may be researching the same ancestors
  • start searching for records that may be about your ancestors

A free trial and paid subscription. Your ability to actually see historical records about your ancestors will be limited with a free guest account. These records are often the key to new discoveries about your family tree. Consider signing up for a free 14-day trial subscription and a subscription offer that best fits your budget. (Click here for current prices–last we checked, they started at $19.99/month or $99 for six months. And Ancestry.com does have dedicated sites for certain areas of the world: click on these links if you’re from the U.K. or Canada.)

2. Start building your family tree.

After setting up your account, you’ll be prompted to enter basic information about you and your family: names, ages or birth dates, birthplaces, and genders. The screen will look something like this (the exact design may vary):

If you don’t know everything, that’s ok. That’s why you’re here! And if you are looking for unknown biological relatives, click here to learn about doing DNA tests.

After you fill in basic information, Ancestry.com will ask whether you want your tree to be public or private. Private trees can’t be viewed by others searching for similar names without your permission; public ones can. Whether your tree is public or private, Ancestry.com privacy protects information about those marked as living. (Click here to read more about Ancestry.com’s privacy settings.)

Once your tree is created, you’ll see it in a new family tree view. Click where it says “Add father” or “Add mother” to keep entering more information about each person’s parents:

You can also add a person’s siblings, spouses, and children. In the family tree view, click once on a relative’s profile (the box with the name, dates, and pink or blue silhouette). Roll over the tool icon that shows at the far right and then select Add relative, as shown below. You may add a father, mother, spouse, or child.

Again, enter as much information as you can. Consider asking other relatives what they can tell you. The more you can tell Ancestry.com about your family, the more it can probably tell you!

TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER: Whenever you enter new information, make it a practice to note where you found it. That’s called citing your sources: click here to learn how to do this on Ancestry.com.

3. Review Ancestry.com record hints.

After you enter information about a relative, you may start to see little green leaf “hints” pop up on your ancestral profiles (see image on the right). Hints mean that Ancestry.com has identified one or more records in its system that may be about your ancestor, based on the data you have provided.

Take a look at these hints by clicking on the ancestral profile thumbnail again. Now click in the upper right corner where it tells you how many hints you have to review:

When you do, you’ll be taken to a new screen that shows you all the records Ancestry.com has identified as possible matches. It’s up to you to review each one to see whether, based on what you know, it appears to match your relative. (Reminder: if you have a free guest account, you may not be able to view most of the records.)

Here’s what the hinting results screen looks like:

You don’t necessarily want to review record hints in the order they appear. Remember the first bullet point at the beginning of this article: Start with your own generation and work backward in time. 

On Ancestry, results from Ancestry Member Trees appear first, but the creators of those trees don’t necessarily know any more than you do! Instead, look down your list for any records that tie the person (Victoria, in this example) to her known relatives and locations. The more unusual the name or place, the better, since the odds would be higher of it being a match.

I have already learned that Victoria was married to Robert Montgomery, and one of their children’s names was Ola (rather unusual), so I’d start by clicking on the third result shown above, which is the 1910 census. That takes me to a summary showing a transcription of part of the record. Click to view the actual record to read it yourself (the summaries aren’t always right). In this case, not only do Robert’s and Ola’s details match what I already know, so does information for several other children, and they’re living right where I’d expect them to live based on what I’ve learned about their children. So where the hint screen asks, “Does the Victoria Montgomery in this record match the person in your tree?,” I click Yes.

TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER: Download a copy of each Ancestry.com record image for your own safekeeping. Click the tool icon to the right of a record image and select Download. For strategies on organizing and naming these record filenames consistently on your computer, click here and listen to free podcast episodes #32 and #33.

To finish the process of accepting this hint, Ancestry.com will transfer all relevant information (including the source citation) from that record into Victoria’s tree profile for me. But it lets me choose which information to transfer. Here’s what it looks like when you accept hints:

The top section (#1) shows a helpful summary of what you already know about Victoria.

Next (#2), you see a comparison of information in the 1910 census, on the left, with what’s already in Victoria’s profile, on the right. You can check which data to add for Victoria from the census: her name, birth date and place, the event date, place, and her personal description.

Ancestry.com flags any data that is new or different from yours in the census. In this case, you don’t want to add her name because what you have (“Victoria M Montgomery”) is more detailed than “Victoria Montgomery.” (That middle initial may prove a key piece of identifying information at some point!) But I will click on the other facts to add them, even if I’ve learned that information from another source, because my confidence in each fact grows when it’s reported independently by multiple records. If I’m not sure about conflicting information, I may click to add the fact and then choose the subsequent option to add it as an alternate fact.

In section #3, I can click on Victoria’s husband Robert’s name and repeat the process of adding details from the 1910 census for him, then for their children who appear in the census. Ancestry.com will even automatically add new relatives to my tree who appear in this record if I so choose. When I’m done selecting all the data I want, I click Save to Your Tree.

Ancestry.com returns me to my remaining hinting results, and I’ll move on to other records that appear to be a strong match (for example, a marriage record between Victoria and Robert, and other censuses). Gradually, I’ll compile additional clues from these strongly-matching records that may help me better recognize “my” Victoria in less-detailed records.

4. Search for more records on Ancestry.com.

Remember, record hints likely won’t find every available record about an ancestor. So when I’m done reviewing all Victoria’s hints, I’ll open her Facts page to view a summary of what I’ve learned about her so far. With my memory refreshed, it’s time to search for additional records about Victoria.

On the top right of Victoria’s profile page, I’ll click Search. Then I’ll see a list of all additional possible records Ancestry.com has found that may pertain to my ancestor:

Following a process similar to reviewing hints, I will scroll through the top search results, then review likely matches and accept or reject each one.

TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER: We encourage everyone to keep their master family tree safe on their backed-up home computer, rather than just on Ancestry.com. Click here to learn more about downloading a copy of your tree and the software we recommend you use at home.

5. Share your tree with relatives.

You’ll likely want to share your tree with relatives, either for them to contribute to it or just to see what you’ve learned. Your relatives do not need an Ancestry.com subscription to view, add to, or edit your tree. (They will need a subscription if they want to search the site for historical records themselves.)

To invite relatives, click on the Trees menu at the top of the Ancestry.com site. Select Create and Manage Trees. Then select the tree you want to send (you may only have one at this point). To the right of that tree, click Invite Family.

You’ll then have the option to send an email invitation to your relatives or invite them via their Ancestry.com usernames if they already use the site. You can specify whether that person may just view the tree, add photos, or be able to make changes to the tree (choose the latter option carefully!).

As you’ve probably guessed, you’ll repeat the process of reviewing hints and searching for records for each of your relatives as you identify and add them to your tree. It’s exciting to see your tree grow and to learn the names and places associated with your family’s past. Remember as you go to look for the stories you’ll often find written “between the lines” of historical documents. Perhaps you’ll realize that a marriage record shows the young couple eloped over the state line. Maybe a series of death dates reveals the loss of several family members to war or cholera. Or maybe you’ll discover that several generations of ancestors pursued careers similar to yours, or shared your middle name. Genealogy is always about your family history, but discoveries like those also make it your history.

Getting Started on Other Giant Genealogy Websites

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheetInterested in researching your family tree but not ready to pay for an Ancestry.com subscription? Consider getting started on FamilySearch.org instead. It’s totally free! It offers some of the same records and tools as Ancestry.com. Learn more about it–and other genealogy website options–in my new quick reference guide, “Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.”

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting the free Genealogy Gems podcast and blog!

What’s a CentiMorgan, Anyway? How DNA Tests for Family History Measure Genetic Relationships

If you’re doing DNA tests for family history, you may see lots of predicted cousin matches: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc…..But what does that predicted genetic relationship actually mean? Learn about centimorgans, the powerful genetic genealogy unit of measure, and how it helps your research.

genetic relationships and centimorgans

How DNA Tests Measure Genetic Relationships

When we are looking at genetic relationships, there are also many ways we can measure them. But ultimately, we want the testing company to tell us how likely it is that a particular individual shares a single, recent common ancestor with us. One factor in this calculation is to take into account the total amount of DNA we share with that match.

Currently, all the testing companies are reporting this sum in centimorgans (cMs).  Every company reports to you the total number of shared cMs, as outlined below.

  • AncestryDNA: Click on the match to access the personal profile page for that match. In the second section, under Predicted Relationship, you will see the confidence level. To the right of the confidence level, you will see a grey circle with a little “i” in it. Clicking there will show you the total amount of shared cMs as well as how many pieces of DNA you share.
  • Family Tree DNA: On the main match page for your Family Finder results, you will see the total amount of shared cMs in the third column.
  • 23andMe: You can see the percentage of shared DNA from the main DNA Relatives home page. To convert the percentage into centimorgans, just multiply your percentage by 68 (that will at least get you close). You can also see total shared cMs in the chromosome browser tool (go to Tools > DNA Relatives > DNA).
  • MyHeritageDNA: The total amount of shared DNA is shown on the main match page under the title Match Quality. MyHeritage also has a new DNA Match Review page. Click here to read more about that.

Centimorgan: A Genetic “Crystal Ball”

It is very tempting to think of a cM just like you would think of an inch or a centimeter, and for all practical purposes, that is okay. But it is actually much more complicated than that.

A cM is actually more like a crystal ball: it helps us predict how likely a piece of DNA looks exactly as it did a generation ago. This, in turn, helps us calculate how far back we should be looking for the common ancestor between two people.

But for our practical purposes, you can use the total amount of shared DNA, in combination with this chart compiled by Blaine Bettinger and the Shared cM Project, to better assess your genealogical relationship with your match based on your genetics.

To use the chart, take the total amount of shared DNA you have with a match, and look up that number in the chart to get an idea of what kind of genealogical relationship might best fit the genetics that you see. For example, if I share 69 cM with my match, we might be third cousins. But we might also be second cousins once or twice removed.

How do you figure out which one? Simply put: do genealogy research! It’s time to use traditional records and research skills to better understand the genetic clues in your family history mysteries.

My series of DNA quick reference guides can help you get the most out of your DNA tests for family history. I definitely recommend the value-priced bundle of all 10 guides. But I especially recommend the guides listed below if you’re to the point where you’re trying to understand what genetic relationships mean:

Thanks for sharing this post with someone who would enjoy reading it! You’re a gem!

“If My Ancestry Subscription Expires, What Happens to My Tree?”

Worried about access to your online tree if you let your Ancestry.com subscription lapse? The tree should still be there. But take these steps to be sure your tree remains accessible and secure–along with the records you’ve attached to it.

What happens to my ancestry tree?

“If My Ancestry Subscription Expires, What Happens to My Tree?”

Many people start researching their genealogy with an Ancestry subscription. They build their family tree on the site, adding details about dozens of relatives. Then they sift through Ancestry’s billions of historical records and add hundreds or even thousands of new names, dates, relationships and other facts to their trees. They even attach records to each ancestor as evidence of what they’ve learned.

Then life calls them away for a while, like it has for Beverly. She wrote to me, concerned about what will happen to all her hard work on that Ancestry tree:

“I have been a member of Ancestry.com for a long time and have worked on several trees. I love to work on my genealogy but lately have not had time. Can I drop my membership and still retain my trees? I plan to get my membership back at a later day. Right now I am wasting $20 a month.”

Beverly, I hear your pain! We all go through busy seasons. It’s easy to cringe at the thought of paying for genealogy website subscriptions we aren’t currently using. But the idea of losing all our progress on those sites is worse.

I did a little research along with Sunny Morton, Genealogy Gems Editor and our resident expert on the “genealogy giants” websites. Here’s what we can tell Beverly and everyone else who is wondering the same thing:

According to Ancestry, the answer is yes. You can still access your trees with your login after your subscription lapses, as long as you didn’t delete the tree or the account altogether.

Ancestry continues to host people’s trees because they want our tree data to share with others, and to give people a reason to come back! Your login and password remain the same. But your account reverts to a free guest account, without access to most of Ancestry’s historical records—including the ones you’ve already attached to your trees.

Ancestry Tree Preservation Strategy 

If you plan to let your Ancestry.com subscription lapse for a while, but you want to continue to work with your online trees, consider taking these steps:

1. Download a copy of every record that you’ve attached to your ancestors’ individual files on Ancestry.com. Do this by opening the image of the record, click on the Save/Saved button at the upper right, and click Save to your computer. I suggest doing this even if you don’t foresee letting your subscription go in the near future.

2. Save each record in an organized, findable way on your computer. I recommend using a consistent system to organize these, which I explain in the free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, in episodes 32-33. (Genealogy Gems Premium website members have access to a 2-part video tutorial on organizing their hard drives.) If you don’t have a consistent way to organize these document images, you’ll soon become overwhelmed with files that all sort of look the same and you won’t be sure what year they are or which ancestors they pertain to without opening each one!

(What about cloud storage options, such as Google Drive or Dropbox? That’s ok, too, although I recommend using these platforms more as temporary or backup storage or to share with relatives, rather than as your primary storage. Instead, I recommend investing in cloud-based backup for your home computer. I use Backblaze personally and for my business.)

3. Download copies of your Ancestry.com treesClick here for instructions; it’s really easy. Yes, Ancestry does continue to maintain your trees, but what guarantees do you have? Data loss does happen even on big websites, and sites change their practices and policies sometimes. If that happens, you could lose all the information you’ve carefully added to your tree.

4. Start using computer software for your “master family tree” instead of keeping it online. A “master family tree” is your most complete, up-to-date version of your tree (or trees, if you build separate ones for separate family lines). Keeping your master tree on your own computer keeps all your tree data at your fingertips without any subscription required. Having one master file matters even more once you start sharing your tree on other websites or with relatives.

RootsMagicI use RootsMagic, and that is why I happily agreed to them sponsoring my Genealogy Gems Podcast. It works for Mac and the PC. I like its affordability: there’s a free version you can try for as long as you like, and the full software will cost you the same as about 90 days of access to Ancestry.com. And RootsMagic has solid relationships with the major genealogy sites: it now syncs with your trees on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, and you can research records on MyHeritage.com and Findmypast.com. RootsMagic has tons of advanced features to help you create family history charts, books, and reports, and a great user support community online.

Ancestry and the other Genealogy Giants

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheetKeep up with news and changes on the “genealogy giants” websites with our ongoing coverage of Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com. And get our quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites. This inexpensive, easy-t0-read guide compares the “big 4” side by side to help you determine which records website may be the best ones for your current genealogy research needs.

Disclosure: this post recommends carefully-chosen products and services for which we receive compensation. Click here to read my full disclosure statement, and thank you for supporting the free content we provide at Genealogy Gems.

Find Undiscovered Treasures at Ancestry.com: Expert Tips

Ancestry.com is packed with all kinds of mostly-undiscovered genealogical treasures–and some of them you’ll never find from a search box. Here, expert Nancy Hendrickson shares some favorite treasures, tips for finding them, and reminders for improving your research.

(As with all of our posts, we provide links for your convenience to the various online resources, and some of these may be affiliate links for which we would receive compensation. Thank you, because those help us keep the free Genealogy Gems Podcast free!) 

Ancestry.com is a “genealogy giant:” one of the four biggest global records resources. Whether you subscribe or have free access through your local library or Family History Center, you should not miss exploring this website for your family history. You probably already know that–but are you getting all you can out of Ancestry.com’s vast collections and many research tools?

Nancy Hendrickson, the author of Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook: A How-To Manual for Tracing Your Family Tree on the #1 Genealogy Website recently shared these tips for taking your research to the next level. We’ve added in some examples and additional things to consider.

How to Use Ancestry.com More Effectively

1. Verify what you learn.

Any single record can be wrong, incomplete, or misread (by you or an indexer). Double check its assertions by looking for that same information in additional sources–and make sure your sources weren’t getting their information from the same person or place. (Otherwise, they’ll naturally say the same thing!)

Nobody wants to discover conflicting information, of course. But you DO want to know if something is inaccurate before it leads you down a wrong research path. The best thing about verifying facts in additional sources is that sometimes you find NEW or BETTER information: parents’ names, a middle name that proves key to someone’s identity, a burial place.

Let’s say you find an ancestor’s death date in the Social Security Death Index. Don’t stop there! The SSDI is sometimes wrong and the information it contains is definitely limited. Use the Ancestry.com Catalog to see what records about death may be on the site for that time and place.

Under Search, select Catalog, then use the filters on the left side to drill down to death records for the location you want. Remember that records collections have been created on a specific geographical level: try local, regional (such as state or province) as well as national levels.


2. Don’t just repeat what other people’s trees say.

Just because seven different online trees name the same parents doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Those folks may all be misquoting the same wrong source!

You’ll often come across likely matches in others’ trees when you review Ancestry’s automated “shaky leaf” hints, or when you run a general search on a name. When you do, watch for these hints that the tree may be worth exploring:

  1. Purple arrows: Multiple pieces of very specific information are the same on your tree and another one.
  2. Red arrow: You see sources attached to that person’s profile, such as the news article thumbnail seen here. (Note the difference with the record shown below, with just an empty profile image.) Yes–you do want to see that news article!
  3. Blue arrow: In addition to either of the above, you also see specific information that is unknown to you.

This tree profile looks promising enough you might naturally consider reviewing the tree hint and attaching it to yours. BUT then you wouldn’t be able to see the news article or other sources attached to that tree. INSTEAD, click the checkbox and then click the name of the tree to look at it and its attached sources:

Then you’ll be able to check out the news article along with the other sources and records attached to this person’s profile. You won’t just see what that person thinks about your common ancestor–you’ll see evidence of why she thinks it.

3. Ancestry.com has more than indexed historical documents.

Nancy reminds us that “Ancestry.com is a fantastic resource for old maps, stories, photos, published county histories, and more. Looking at old maps can reveal the true nature of an ancestor’s daily life, hardships, travels, and more. Your chance of finding early American ancestors is high in county histories: there were fewer people and early settlers were talked about, even if the family wasn’t wealthy or prominent.” Top collections include:

  • U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918, with nearly 7 million records extracted from about 1,200 county and land ownership maps from across the country. These are indexed by property owners’ names. According to the collection description, “They also indicate township and county boundaries and can include photos of county officers, landholders, and some buildings and homes.”
  • U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984: This is a browse-only collection of “more than 2,200 volumes of county and regional histories from California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin….In them you’ll find history, biographical sketches, maps, business notices, statistics and population numbers, pictures, descriptions of industry and business, stories of early settlement and pioneers, colleges and universities, military history, geography, and plenty of other details.” Reminder: you can’t search this database by an ancestor’s name. Instead, look for places, and then start reading.
  • Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 collection of maps and atlases detailing land areas that comprise the present-day United States and Canada, as well as various other parts of the world. It contains a variety of maps and atlases created for different scopes and purposes, including land ownership atlases and bird’s-eye view maps. Land ownership atlases usually show the names of contemporary owners or occupants of land and structures. Some of the maps depict countries and wider geographical areas, while others depict counties, cities, towns, and smaller geographical areas.

4. Ancestry owns a lot of other web resources. Search these too!

“They include Find A Grave, Fold3, and RootsWeb, one of the oldest online genealogy communities around,” says Nancy. “Don’t give up! Keep looking in other places for the information you want to find.”

More info:

  • Search results from Ancestry.com do include Find A Grave entries. Many of these contain additional information about the deceased and links to their relatives (remember to confirm the information you find here).
  • Fold3 is home to millions of U.S. military records. Ancestry.com subscribers can upgrade their subscription to include Fold3 access, or you can subscribe separately.
  • RootsWeb: This is a free and long-lived family history web resource, now hosted by Ancestry. “The primary purpose and function of RootsWeb.com is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research,” says the site. “Most resources on RootsWeb.com are designed to facilitate such connections.” Click here to explore various way to use RootsWeb: search it, contribute records, upload your family tree, post your family surnames on a board others can see, and more.

Nancy shares many more Ancestry tips and treasures in her Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook. Save 10% (even off sale prices) with promo code GEMS17 (good through 12/31/17) when you click on the book title or image to purchase. To get the most out of this book:

1. Read the section on using the Ancestry.com Catalog! Nancy does 95% of her research in the catalog.
2. The workbook is divided into topics, such as military records. Choose a chapter that fits your current goals.
3. Don’t just read the workbook: do the exercises. They teach you Nancy’s thought processes for how she finds specific answers or approaches certain types of problems. Then you can apply the same concepts to your own research.
4. Don’t skip the chapter on social history! That’s where you’ll dig into everyday life.
5. See the book for forms to help you log your findings and analyze what you’ve learned.

Thanks for sharing these tips with your friends on your favorite social media site! You’re a Gem!

Why Your Genetic Family Tree Is Not the Same as Your Family Tree

Your genetic family tree is not the same as your genealogical pedigree–and not just because of non-paternity events and adoption. Here’s how.

Genetic vs Genealogcial CousinsYour genealogical pedigree, if you are diligent or lucky (or both!) can contain hundreds, even thousands of names and can go back countless generations. You can include as many collateral lines as you want. You can add several sources to your findings, and these days you can even add media, including pictures and copies of the actual documents. Every time someone gets married or welcomes a new baby, you can add that to your chart. In short, there is no end to the amount of information that can make up your pedigree chart.

Not so for your genetic pedigree.

Your genetic pedigree contains only those ancestors for whom you have received some of their DNA. You do not have DNA from all of your ancestors.

You do not have DNA from all of your ancestors.

Using some fancy math we can calculate that the average generation in which you start to see that you have inherited zero blocks of DNA from an ancestor is about seven. But of course, most of us aren’t trying to figure out how much of our DNA we received from great great great grandma Sarah. Most of us just have a list of DNA matches and we are trying to figure out if we are all related to 3X great grandma Sarah. So how does that work?

Well, the first thing we need to recognize is that living descendants of Sarah’s would generally be our fourth cousins. Again, bring in the fancy math and we can learn that living, documented fourth cousins who have this autosomal DNA test completed will only share DNA with each other 50% of the time.

Yes, only half.

Only half of the time your DNA will tell you what your paper trail might have already figured out: that you and cousin Jim are fourth cousins, related through sweet 3X great grandma Sarah.

DNA cousinsBut here’s where the numbers are in our favor. You have, on average, 940 fourth cousins. So if you are only sharing DNA with 470 of them, that’s not quite so bad, is it? And it only takes one or two of them to be tested and show up on your match list. Their presence there, and their documentation back to sweet Sarah, helps to verify the genealogy you have completed. It also allows you to gather others who might share this connection so you can learn even more about Sarah and her family. Plus, if you find Jim, then Jim will have 470 4th cousins as well, some of which will not be on your list, giving you access to even more of the 940.

This genetic family tree not matching up exactly with your traditional family tree also manifests itself in your ethnicity results, though there are other reasons for discrepancies there as well. Read this article to learn more about why ethnicity results may not match.

In short, this DNA stuff is not a stand alone tool, but if you combine it with your traditional resources, it can be a very powerful tool for verifying and extending your family history. Remember, just because a cousin doesn’t show a match in DNA, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a genealogical connection! Genealogical research and primary sources can still prove connections even if DNA doesn’t show it.

Ready to learn more?

Read your dna guide at Genealogy GemsMy goals as Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems is to help you get the most from your DNA testing efforts, and to make it fun and easy-to-understand along the way. I’ve got more DNA articles for you. Check these out:

23andMe blog post: “How Many Relatives Do You Have?”

“How Much of Your Genome Do You Inherit from a Particular Ancestor?”

Listen to Lisa Louise Cooke’s interview with Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer, Catherine Ball, on how your DNA and pedigree chart can work together to reveal your family’s migration story:

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 202.

Give the Gift of DNA this Mother’s Day or Father’s Day

$20 off 23andMe DNA kits
(Ancestry service now $79, Ancestry+Health now $179)
No coupon code needed, just use this link.
Free gift wrap, limit 2 kits
Sale ends 5/14/17
(order by 5/7/17 to arrive in time for Mother’s Day)
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