Is someone else’s Ancestry family tree causing a pain in your own tree trunk? Here’s a way to approach it–nicely!
Scott is a new Genealogy Gems listener and he recently dropped me a line about a problem that just a few–ok, nearly every–genealogist has at some point come face-to-face with: an error on an Ancestry family tree. Scott writes:
“I recently found your podcast and have been listening with great interest. I really appreciate your experienced, informed, yet common sense approach to genealogy. Because of this common sense approach, I felt you would be a great source of advice for a dilemma I am having.”
This Genealogy Gems listener went on to describe coming across a family tree in the Ancestry forest that included his family line. It featured good research that mirrored his own and some additional that gave him hints that lead to even more branch extensions. “The only problem is, there is a critical error in her research: the starting point that she uses for that whole line is incorrect.”
Scott believes he has very good documentation and support for his claim. In fact he notes that she even has a document attached to her tree that supports his case that she has made an error.
“My dilemma: How do I appropriately connect with her to let her know that she has made an error? This individual has made a concerted effort to research and cite, and does it better than almost all the others on that line have done. I want to let her know so she can dedicate and direct those wonderful skills in the right direction, but I want to do it in a considerate way. Everyone makes mistakes of this nature – I sure have!! What is the best way to make an initial contact that exposes an error?”
If you participate in Ancestry’s online family trees then you have probably faced an Ancestry tree error. Let’s be honest: Genealogists can grow quite cynical about the intentions of others when they see so many trees lacking sources, and errors within trees. It’s frustrating to run into. Interestingly, in Scott’s description of his situation he’s already demonstrated the approach I would recommend. Here’s what I told him:
- You’ve assumed the best (not the worst) about her approach to the research
- You want to help
- You know that everyone makes mistakes
I would weave that into the following approach that I like to take with any situation, genealogical or otherwise, where I need to approach someone about incorrect work:
1. Start with a compliment.
“I’m so impressed by all the work you have clearly accomplished so far….”
2. Address the problem by assuming that they are ultimately interested in accuracy.
“I wanted to make you aware of something I found which I believe changes the conclusions about this particular family line. I think you’ll find this as interesting as I did….” This approach, by the way, doesn’t say ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ but rather it says the facts and data are right and you’re guessing they will be as interested in the facts as you are.
3. End with a sincere compliment or expression of appreciation
“Again, I’m so grateful that you have shared your tree online and I look forward to hearing from you”
And finally, when addressing an error on an Ancestry family tree, as with all things in life, we have to manage our expectations. If you don’t hear back, or get a negative response, just know that the other researcher may be emotionally invested in their findings in a way you’re not aware of, or may no longer be actively working on it, and not have time to revisit it right now. (For all we know, their spouse could have just gone into the hospital.)
Bottom line: An error on an Ancestry family tree is a pain in the tree trunk. Focus on placing your accurate tree online, fully cite your sources, and move on, knowing that you are offering other researchers who come across both trees an alternative.
More Resources for Your Family Tree
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Recently we heard from Julie who listens to the podcast overseas. She is weighing the pros and cons of having her online family tree be private or public. Public trees can be searched and viewed by the general public and/or other members of that particular website. Private trees are just that. They are generally only searchable and viewable by individuals who have been invited to see them by the owner.
Julie shares some great observations about what it’s like to work with other tree owners and how it feels when information is freely taken from her–but there is no sharing in return.
On working with other people’s public trees:
“If it wasn’t for [other people’s] trees being public–even the ones with sketchy information–I would not have made contact with distant cousins or made many of the discoveries I have. Some of the dodgy information has helped me to improve my search and analytical skills and I always contact the owner if I have found something that doesn’t ring true (hopefully diplomatically!). Most of the time the tree owners are grateful and we then exchange more information.
When information is copied from my tree I will often contact the person to see how we are related and to see if we might be able to collaborate some more. (I don’t post everything I have on my online databases.) If I get no response it does leave me feeling uncomfortable (especially when it is photos) about having posted the info and it being taken without any communication. I do also contact tree owners when I copy photos or documents, even if it is just to say thank you. Maybe it is because photos are that much more personal.”
On working with private tree owners:
“I find it even more frustrating when someone with a private tree copies things from my public tree without making any contact. This is then exacerbated if I contact them and they don’t respond. Maybe I’m being unreasonable – or maybe I’m missing something. It comes across to me that they are willing to take but not that willing to share. One person I did contact who responded very kindly shared some information with me but was very blunt about the fact they did not want to see any of the information they provided on the internet, yet they had happily taken some of the documents/photo’s I had posted. I found that interesting.”
So…private or public?
“I am now feeling unsure about which is the best way to go as I can see pros and cons about both. In the meantime I have stopped adding media to my online tree, and I’m considering removing some of what I have posted and instead include a note saying if you want the document/photo please contact me. However, I am not convinced about this as I love it when I find photos/documents on other trees.”
Family Tree Etiquette:
I do wish for a more communal genealogy world, in which information is shared freely and all branches of a family tree intertwine themselves in love. Of course that’s not how things are. But I feel like every person who “puts things out there” brings us closer to that ideal.
That said, I admit I’ve copied photos and documents from other people’s trees in the past without contacting them. I didn’t mean to be rude. It just didn’t occur to me to contact them, especially if they clearly weren’t closely related and I had no immediate questions about their sources. But you’re right. Photos feel more personal. In the future I hope I will always remember to send a “thank you” message whenever I snag someone’s images for my tree.
I appreciate Julie’s compromise: she keeps a public presence but encourages others to be respectful and communicative by telling them to contact her for images. You’d likely have to look closely at her tree to find those messages from her, which will reward the most intrepid researchers. Beginning or more casual researchers might miss her invitation and therefore an opportunity to collaborate.
For everyone, whether to post a private v. public tree comes down to our priorities. Do we most want to meet distant relatives? Collaborate with other branches of the family to learn the most possible about our shared past? If so, public trees are the way to go. If personal or family privacy is paramount (especially if your tree holds family secrets that aren’t ready to share), or the research is still very tentative, make it a private tree.
You may even split things up: have public trees when you’re reaching out to others and private ones when you’re not. Lisa says if she had to do it all over again, she would not upload her entire tree but just the “trunk,” or her direct-line ancestors. (Lisa always keeps her master tree on her home computer, not in online genealogy databases over which she has no control.)
Whether your own trees are public or private, Julie’s thoughts are a good reminder about using our best manners when communicating with other tree owners. Here at Genealogy Gems, we do believe in the value of collaborating on your genealogy. In fact, we ran a series of posts on how to collaborate. Check out the first one here! And we have a brand new free video on using the free program Evernote to share your sources.
Back in 2013 a YouTube video went viral about the importance of hard word and making your own luck, values I am fortunate that my ancestors passed on to me. The speech came from an unlikely source: a young Hollywood actor. In the video, Ashton Kutcher stands in front of a bunch of teenagers at the Teen Choice Awards talking about the importance of hard work:
“When I was 13, I had my first job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof, and then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then I got a job in a grocery store deli, and then I got a job at a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground,” Kutcher said.
“And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.”
As I said, this video went wildly viral (which is how I came across it) and it got me to thinking about my own work ethic. The credit for it sits squarely on my dad’s shoulders, and also my grandparents shoulders, and their grandparents shoulders.
My dad was the first in his family to get a college degree. (image above: Dad and my proud Grandpa at Dad’s Graduation) He went to school and studied all day and worked in the local hospital morgue at night!
I remember endless nights as a kid creeping up behind him as he sat in at the makeshift office in my parent’s master bedroom, puffing on a pipe and studying for his CPA. We didn’t have much in common to talk about, but it was what I saw in action that was communicating to me. Dad went on to become a successful businessman in a large company, and later created several vibrant businesses.
Getting the Message
I guess it was that non-verbal communication between father and daughter that inspired me as a kid to pull weeds, babysit and yes even shingle the side of the garage to make a few bucks.
And I vividly remember taking a temporary job caring for a 100 old year woman for a few weeks one summer. She was testy at first as she felt generally ignored, but warmed up to her inquisitive caregiver until she was soon sharing stories of traveling as a little girl in a covered wagon. She’d found her audience and I was entranced.
At 15 I lied about my age so I could get a job at pizza place washing dishes. Within two days they promoted me to cook, a position a girl had never held in that restaurant.
Later I went on to my teenage dream job – sales clerk at the record store at the mall. (Sheer persistence helped me beat out all the other teens for that one!)
And then, on to a job at Radio Shack (this time the first female to be hired in the state to the best of my knowledge) as the TRS-80 computer hit the shelves.
I started my professional career working for free at a travel agency to get a little resume cred as I finished travel agent school, and was the first to land a job a week before graduation. I went on to working in corporate America where I received invaluable career development.
Signing books with my grandsons.
An Entrepreneur at Heart
But like my dad, I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’ve created a couple of businesses and positions for myself over the years, and find myself now with Genealogy Gems living my dream and drawing from all of my past experiences.
There have been many challenges along the way – no one ever said work was easy. In fact, my mom’s favorite saying that was drilled in to us as kids was “life isn’t fair – get over it!” She was absolutely right, and she removed the obstacle of fretting over fairness from my life, so I could just get on with working hard and creating my own dreams. I was one lucky kid!
Now whenever a challenge arises, my instinct is to say to myself: I can’t wait to find out what future opportunity this dilemma is training me for!” Almost without exception, I can look back over my past work experiences and see how they are helping me today. Some of the very worst have turned out to be blessings.
(Update: I talk more about this and my career in an interview I did on the Genealogy Professional Podcast Episode 29.)
The Good News About Your Family Tree
Even if the most recent generations that came before you let you down or hurt you, family history offers you centuries to pull new and positive values from.
Your ancestors were survivors and yep, that’s why you’re here! You may have parents or grandparents who went astray, but you have countless ancestors to find, and learn from.
Best of all, you get to pick which values you wish to embrace, and which will fall by the wayside.
Let us pass on what our ancestors taught us so our kids and grand kids can enjoy the opportunities, growth, reward and freedom that comes from good old hard work.
So what “lucky” opportunities have you had and created?
On this Labor Day I hope you’ll join me in the comments below and share what you learned about work from your previous generations.
Why not share this post with someone YOU know who works hard? Let them know how much you admire them.
RootsTech 2018 registration is open! Travel plan alert: you won’t want to miss Wednesday, February 28, the new official opening day. Wednesday is all about technology, and it’s aimed at all of us (not just the techie crowd). We are a little bit giddy at the thought. Here’s our “first look” at what to expect for RootsTech 2018.
The buzz has already begun for RootsTech 2018! Here’s our synopsis of what’s going to be great about RootsTech 2018:
RootsTech 2018: “Connect. Belong”
Where: Salt Lake City, Utah
When: Wednesday, February 28 – Saturday, March 3, 2018
Hosted by: FamilySearch.org
Registration: Register online ASAP for early-bird pricing
RootsTech 2018: Don’t Miss Wednesday!
Technology day for everyone
Big news: RootsTech 2018 will run for four full days! The dates to mark on your calendar are Wednesday, February 28 – Saturday, March 3. Don’t miss the first day! In the past, Wednesday technology sessions have been targeted at industry movers-and-shakers. This year, Wednesday is still all about technology, but the day’s events have been expanded and broadened for all audiences. There will be an opening General Keynote Session, a new Innovation Showcase, and classes that will appeal to all audiences.
The Innovation Showcase has replaced previous year’s competition. It looks more like a high-tech “show and tell” of even more of the best-and-brightest stars in family history technology. Companies from around the world–from small startups to large organizations–will have a shot at presenting their newest product or service on stage before a large online and in-person audience. The audience will select a “People’s Choice award” via live text voting. (Click here by October 15 to nominate a product or service.)
Wednesday Expo Hall Preview
Make plans to come say hello to us on Wednesday evening at the Expo Hall Preview from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. Genealogy Gems will be there with another ultimate Exhibitor Hall experience (click here to get an idea of what’s coming). The Expo Hall is a stunning, not-to-miss experience, whether you love the energy of the crowd, the glamorous displays, or the chance to talk one-on-one with people from your favorite genealogy companies and services.
RootsTech 2018 Registration: Plan Early for the Best Experience
In addition to what’s new, many great RootsTech traditions promise to continue this year: expect dazzling keynotes, over 300 official RootsTech classes, and world-class evening entertainment. (Click here to watch my 2017 “Genealogy Giants” RootsTech lecture or click here for the recently-released 2017 keynote by LaVar Burton.) More details about this year’s keynotes and performers will be announced in the coming months, so check back with us often. We are official RootsTech Ambassadors and we’ll have the inside scoop on all the latest information and updates.
RootsTech registration is now open! There are lots of registration options–from a free Family Discovery Day experience on Saturday to a budget-friendly “Getting Started” four-day pass ($69 early-bird price) to the full RootsTech Pass ($169 early-bird price). Click here for a comparison of what each pass offers. And here’s a tip from a RootsTech veteran: Make your hotel reservations early! Those downtown hotels fill up so quickly.
Going to RootsTech for the first time? Click here for a RootsTech Q&A with Lisa Louise Cooke.
The Genealogy Gems team can’t wait to see you at RootsTech 2018!
Genealogy testing companies have been hard at work recalibrating your ethnicity calculations based on new and better data. Here’s the latest from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard.
Family History DNA Pie Charts and Percentages
Remember that the pretty pie charts and percentages are based on fancy math and reference populations. The initial reference populations released by our testing companies were a great start, but many categories lacked sufficiently high numbers of people to represent all of the facets of a population. In the 10+ years since their release, many updates have been made. But the fancy math that is used to produce our percentages can only be as fancy as the numbers you give it. The numbers have been hard at work at Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA and 23andMe in the past couple of months with the result being a major overhaul in the way our ethnicity results are reported.
We recently reported about the update at 23andMe and their increase from 31 reference populations to 150. However, for me, the totally 100% European me, there wasn’t much excitement. As you can see in the 23andMe chart, I had a couple of numbers move up or down slightly, but not anything to write home about. However, I am certain those with South American, or Eastern European ancestry have a much different story. 23andMe added many new reference populations to better represent these underrepresented areas of the world, a move which has likely made a big difference for the ever diversifying pool of individuals who have taken a DNA test.
AncestryDNA also released their latest Ethnicity update in September, boasting an additional 13,000 reference samples to their database. They not only upgraded their numbers, but also shifted some of their categories around based on this new data. They seem to not be quite sure what to do with Ireland, as in early 2017 it was its own category, later moving in with Wales and Scotland, and now appears in this latest update as simply Ireland and Scotland. My previous numbers from AncestryDNA seemed to at least loosely reflect my heritage (meaning that I do actually have people in my genealogy chart from a few of these places).
But the new DNA numbers? Big Changes.
I have one set of great grandparents from Germany, but it looks like nearly all my German was sucked into England, but miraculously, they seemed to have precisely found my Swedish 2X great grandmother, with the 7% that I should have from that area.
With the new update, though I am sad to see my German go, AncestryDNA is now more fully in line with the results I have received from 23andMe, LivingDNA, and MyHeritage, all of which put my England/British Isles count up around 90%. If I compare my results from various companies and combine any subcategories into one England/British Isles category, indicate Scandinavian, and then lump everything else together, the results from the four companies are actually quite similar (I don’t have my own results at Family Tree DNA, only my parents).
My Family History DNA Results
Here’s how my results currently stack up at each of these websites. (Image 3)
Which DNA Testing Company to Choose
So which company is the best at all of this? Well, I usually say that if you test everywhere, your “true” answer is likely somewhere in the middle. But really, you can determine which company is best for you by examining their reference populations, and determining which company is most likely able to meet your goals.
In the end, it is always good to remember two things:
- Your DNA does not fully represent your family history, so your ethnicity results can’t possibly tell you everything about your heritage.
- This technology is purposefully titled as an estimate. So be sure you treat it that way.
Learn More about Genetic Genealogy
Recommended reading at Genealogy Gems: Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates
Get Diahan’s quick reference guides including Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist at the Genealogy Gems store.