June 28, 2017

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!

Find Australian Ancestors and More: New and Updated Genealogy Records Online

These new and updated genealogical records span three continents and date to the Middle Ages: Australia colonial portraits, New South Wales and Queensland; millions of new U.S. marriage records, a WWI online exhibit, Liverpool church records, a Romanian digital archive, German (Bavarian) civil registers, Confederate musters (GA), PA obituaries, and a Minneapolis newspaper.

Featured this week: Australia Colonial Portraits, New South Wales and Queensland 

The State Library of South Australia announced a newly-digitized collection of more than 1,000 photographs of South Australian colonists. The original photos have been on display at the State Library. “In 2017 they have returned as facsimiles (along with new indexes and online catalogue records),” says a Facebook post. Click to explore the men’s photos or women’s photos online for free. Several people have already identified their ancestors in these collections, judged by comments on the Facebook post. Even better news: the images may be freely copied and used. The Library responded to a question about use with, “The images are well out of copyright. We just ask that you cite as appropriate.”

Subscription website Findmypast.com has posted new Australia content, too:

  • New South Wales Parish Registers, Christ Church Cathedral Newcastle.The records span the years 1804 to 1900 and will reveal the names of your ancestor’s parents,” states Findmypast. “Currently the collection holds just over 5,000 baptisms, around 2,200 marriages records, and just over 3,300 burials. Some burials have also been transcribed from newspapers and other sources.”
  • 1881 British Census, Crew and Passengers on Ships arriving in New South Wales. “Over 19,000 records….These records pertain to British and non-British passengers and crewmen arriving at Sydney from 1 January to 31 March 1881….Each record will reveal the individual’s age, status, nationality, occupation and details of their voyage.”
  • New South Wales, Closer Settlement and Returned Soldiers Transfer Files. “Over 19,000 records have been added….These land transfer records can help you determine the property dealings of your New South Wales ancestors and see if they were involved in transferring land ownership. The records also include files relating to returned servicemen from the First World War who took part in the soldier settlement scheme.”
  • Queensland School Pupil Index. “This database covers over 1.6 million names drawn from 1,022 Queensland schools,” says the collection description. “The earliest date of admission is 1864…. Schools range from large city schools with admissions in the thousands to one-teacher country schools with a total enrollment of only hundreds. Some schools have long ceased to exist; others are still functioning.”

Europe – Digital image archive

Just shy of a half million images from the cultural heritage digital archive Europeana are now part of the new Creative Commons (CC) search database. Now it’s even easier to discover and share images about an ancestor’s life–and to identify images you can re-use without copyright restriction.

“A tool for discovery, collaboration and re-use, CC Search enables users to search a variety of open repositories through a single interface to find content in the commons,” explains a Europeana blog post. “The new beta version of the project, which was released in early February, includes simple, one-click attribution, making it easier to credit the source of any image. CC Search beta also provides social features, allowing users to create, share, and save lists as well as adding tags and favorites to the objects in the commons….These records can all be used for commercial purposes, and are also open for modifications, adaption, or to be built upon. Click here to learn more about WWI and other genealogy-friendly content at Europeana.

England – Liverpool

Ancestry.com has updated its collections of Church of England parish records for Liverpool, England. These databases include baptisms, confirmations, marriages/banns and burials, along with a combined database of older baptisms, marriages and burials dating to 1659.

Germany (Bavaria) – Vital Records

Ancestry.com has published a new collection of Freilassing, Germany, Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1876-1985. “This collection contains civil registry records from Bavaria,” states the collection landing page. “It includes births covering the years 1876-1899, marriages from 1876 to 1932, and death records for the years 1876-1985. Freilassing is a community in Berchtesgadener Land, Bavaria. It is situated immediately on the German border with Austria and is adjacent to the city of Salzburg. Until 1923, Freilassing was called ‘Salzburghofen’ and this is the name given in many of the records.”

Romania – Digital Archive

Thousands of documents from medieval Romania have been digitized and published online at Arhiva Medievala a Romanie. It’s the first collection of its kind for the country, says an article at Romania-Insider.com. Because of the age and content of these documents, they likely don’t have direct genealogical research value for most people. But anyone with Romanian roots might enjoy getting a sense of the country’s deep history.

United States: WWI, Millions of Marriages and More 

A new online exhibit from the Library of Congress can help you better picture your U.S. ancestors’ experiences during and after World War I. “‘Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I‘ examines the upheaval of world war as Americans confronted it— both at home and abroad,” states the webpage. “The exhibition considers the debates and struggles that surrounded U.S. engagement; explores U.S. military and home front mobilization and the immensity of industrialized warfare; and touches on the war’s effects, as an international peace settlement was negotiated, national borders were redrawn, and soldiers returned to reintegrate into American society.”

Also in the U.S.: Findmypast has added over 6.7 million records to its U.S. marriage records collection. “New additions covering 127 counties across 18 states have been added to our collection of US marriages,” states a press release. “This is the first time ever these records have been released online, providing you with brand new opportunities to expand your family tree.” The 18 states with new records are Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

More from across the U.S.:

  • Georgia: Confederate Muster Rolls. The Georgia Archives has digitized and published its collection of Confederate Muster Rolls. According to the site, “The majority of the company muster rolls in this series are from military organizations created by the State of Georgia during the Civil War for service within the state. These military organizations include the Georgia Army (1861), the Georgia State Guards (August 1863-February 1864), and the Georgia State Line (1862-1865). The Georgia Militia is referred to as Georgia State Troops.  Some units were later turned over to Confederate service. There are also nearly 250 muster rolls from Georgia Volunteer Infantry.”
  • Minnesota: Newspapers.com now hosts the entire run of The Minneapolis Star Tribune, which dates to 1867. That’s more than 54,000 issues, among which are a 1976 headliner about a teenage star in the making: Prince. (See that article here for free, just because you can).
  • Pennsylvania – Obituaries. A new collection of Beaver County, Pennsylvania obituaries (1920-1969) is now online at Ancestry.com.

2 Free Resources for Finding Australian Ancestors

Trove: Australia’s Digital Newspaper Website

Assisted Immigration to Australia: Queensland Passenger Lists

 

Source for our lead image: Click here to view map of Australia

Do You Know about Browse-Only Collections at Ancestry and Findmypast

Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and Findmypast and open the lid on your family history research.

browse-only collections at Ancestry

Not long ago, Amie Tennant blogged about how to access browse-only content at FamilySearch.org. Did you know that both Ancestry.com and Findmypast have browse-only collections of digitized records, too? Browse-only collections aren’t indexed yet, so they are not searchable by name, but they are a treasure chest of information. Though it might take some time to locate a record within one of these collections, it’s better than renting microfilm or traveling to a far off location!

Here are a couple of tips for accessing these browse-only collections to whet your appetite.

Browse-only Collections at Ancestry

Unfortunately, Ancestry.com doesn’t make it quite as easy as FamilySearch to find browse-only databases, or others that are partially-indexed.

From the main menu, select Search > Card Catalog. Use the filters along the left side to search for the collections you want by record type, location, and date. When you click on a collection, you will be able to select from the browse options along the right side. If it’s fully or partially indexed, you can also do name searches within just that collection.

Here’s a video tutorial by Crista Cowan from Ancestry.com on how to find and browse their browse-only collections:

A series of digitized photo albums by Canada’s Department of the Interior between 1892 and 1917 is an example of one of these browse-only collections. The collection description includes useful instructions such as: “At the beginning of each album, you will find a table of contents with a brief description of each photograph and the photograph number. Use these tables to help you browse to the photograph of interest.” You can browse through the images like you would if you were using microfilm or leafing through a book.

Browse-Only Collections at Findmypast

I got a tip from a Findmypast rep on how to find the browse-only collections on their website. Just go under Search > A-Z of Record Sets. Enter the search term “browse.” It’s really that easy!

browse-only collections at Ancestry

A portion of a document in the Kindertransport browse-only collection at Findmypast.

A digitized collection of Kindertransport documents is among the browse-only collections at Findmypast. Kindertransport rescued children from Nazi-occupied areas during World War II. There is a lot of information about refugee children in this collection such as who was taking care of them, how much they were being paid, and reports on the medical condition of refugee children from Germany. If Kindertransport was a part of your family’s past, these look like a must-read. Maybe I should have said, a must browse!.

More Tips on Searching Your Favorite Genealogy Websites

Ancestry one stop shoppingSearching Browse-Only Records at FamilySearch.org

4 Tips for Getting the Most from Ancestry.com

Using Ancestry Library Edition and Other Genealogy Databases at Your Public Library (in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 125 (Premium Membership required to listen)

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records onlineHere’s our weekly roundup of new genealogy records online. Do you see anything you should be searching for your ancestors?

ENGLAND – LAND AND TAX. About a quarter million land tax and valuation records for Plymouth and West Devon (1897-1949) are now searchable for Findmypast.com subscribers. Transcriptions and images can reveal an ancestor’s owner/renter status, property location and size, property use and more.

US – ARIZONA VOTERS. A new database of Arizona voter registrations(1874-1932) is available at Ancestry.com. According to the collection description, “This database consists of Great Registers [lists produced from voter registrations] compiled by county recorders for each county in Arizona, by district. They list the names of eligible voters who registered to vote within the state of Arizona.” In this database you’ll see the state’s transition to female suffrage in 1912.

US – CALIFORNIA PASSENGER ARRIVALS. Over 375,000 names have been added to an existing collection of free FamilySearch.org passenger arrival records for San Francisco, CA (1954-1957). These include inbound passengers, crew lists and changes in crew.

US – DELAWARE WILLS AND PROBATE. Ancestry.com has updated its collection of  Delaware Wills and Probate records(1676-1971). The indexed images now span nearly 300 years and include records from all counties (some locales and time periods are not included). Over 134,000 names are indexed.

US – MASSACHUSETTS VITAL RECORDS. Now available to search for free on FamilySearch.org is a new collection of indexed images of Massachusetts delayed and corrected vital records. Spanning about 150 years (1753-1900), the collection is relatively small (31,710 indexed names) but often delayed and corrected vital records can be brick-wall busters!

Use these Google Gems to Find Records You Need

Google AlertsGoogle Search Tips 101: Keyword Search Tips

2 Mysterious Deaths in the Family? How to Google for Answers

Google Alerts for Genealogy

 

3 Things This Gems Follower Loves About the New Ancestry Site

Ancestry what I love about the new siteRecently we reported changes in the Ancestry.com site, now available to all U.S. customers. Genealogy Gems follower Nora then emailed us with three things she loves about the new Ancestry experience, and her instructions for merging facts related to the same life event. Below are her comments; I’ve added screen shots for the sake of illustration that don’t pertain to Nora’s ancestors.

“I’ve been playing around with the new version of Ancestry.com, and have the following comments:

Yes No Maybe Ancestry1. YES, NO, MAYBE SO. “I LOVE that in the “hints”, it now asks you if the facts match your ancestor, and you have “Yes,” “No” and “Maybe” options.

In some cases, it is clearly not your ancestor, but sometimes you just aren’t sure. If you click “Yes,” you get the usual screen where you compare the items in the record to your tree and decide which points you want to use as “preferred” before you save the source to the individual in your tree.

If you click “No”, the hint gets put in the “Ignored” list. Yes, you could always go back and review these again, but you had to dig through all the entries that clearly did not relate to your ancestor. With the addition of “Maybe” there is now an “Undecided” list.  If you think it is possible that this is your ancestor, but don’t yet have any additional information that would support an unconditional “Yes, save this to my ancestor” reaction, you can click “Maybe.” Then, when something else shows up in your research that supports that hint, you can search back through the “Undecided” list under hints for that ancestor, and maybe go ahead and save the info to them in your tree.

Ancestry LifeStory viewTHUMBS-UP ON LIFESTORY VIEW. “I quite like the LifeStory view, especially as it gives the option to remove items you don’t want to include. For instance, the 1860 U.S. Federal census shows my ancestor as residing in New York, NY.  She was actually visiting her parents with her firstborn, a toddler son named for her father. Her actual home at the time was in California.

Because I entered the census info on Ancestry, her LifeStory suddenly included “current event” items for New York in the years between the 1860 and 1870 censuses. While these are appropriate in her parents’ records, they are not applicable to her, as she returned to California and her husband.

EASIER TO MERGE FACTS. “On each ancestor’s Facts tab, it is now so easy to combine duplicates of life events that came from different sources! I’ve been doing editing there and then syncing with my Family Tree Maker tree. The page shows the list of facts for the individual, the list of sources for that individual’s facts, and the list of immediate family members.

For the ancestor [mentioned] above, there were four separate marriage “facts.”  All of the documentation of the marriage date came from other members’ trees. Two of these trees had the information entered in exactly the same format, so they were both linked to the same fact. The other three trees each had the information entered slightly differently from any of the other trees. In order to consolidate down to just one “fact” with multiple “sources,” I did the following:

  1. Chose which “fact” I wanted to keep (in this case, it was the one with the most detailed information about the event). I’ll call this the “Master Fact.”  My “Master Fact” was showing one source.  The “duplicate facts” were showing 2, 1, and 1 source respectively.
  2. Clicked on the first “duplicate fact.”  This drew a connector line to the associated “sources.”
  3. Allowed my mouse to hover over the associated source, and clicked on the EDIT button that appears. At the top of the resulting screen, it listed the “facts” that this particular source is currently associated with. Below, it listed all the other “facts” for the individual.
  4. In the lower list, I clicked the plus sign next to the Master Fact that I wanted to keep. This associated the current “source” with the Master Fact.
  5. Next, in the upper section, I checked the “X” next to the “duplicate fact” that I intended to delete.  This unlinked the current “source” from that “fact.”
  6. I repeated these steps for all the “sources” associated with the “duplicate facts.”
  7. Lastly, I went back to the Facts tab for this particular ancestor. My “Master Fact” was now showing 5 associated sources, and each of the “duplicate facts” showed no associated sources. I was able to click on each “duplicate fact,” select “Delete” from the “Edit” menu associated with that “fact,” and wind up with just the “Master Fact” for my ancestor’s marriage. Doing this really cleaned up the LifeStory view without having to “hide” a bunch of entries.”

Thank you, Nora! I appreciate hearing from you about the “gems” you’re finding in the new Ancestry site experience–and especially thanks for those instructions on associating several sources with the same life event.

podcast logo 180The free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 has tips for backing up your Ancestry data (not just your tree, but sources and DNA), as does this blog post. Make sure you’re always backed up, whether your data lives online or on your home computer. I rely on Backblaze as the official Genealogy Gems backup data provider. Click here to learn why

MORE German Genealogy Records at Ancestry.com

German genealogy recordsNearly 12 million German genealogy records are newly searchable on Ancestry.com! You’ll find these in more than 30 databases of civil registrations of birth, marriages, residences and deaths between 1874-1950.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • around a million each of births and  deaths for Berlin, and about 2 million marriages;
  • over a million parish register transcripts for Pomerania and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (some are updates to existing records);
  • over 300,000 records of the Rhineland-Palatinate area (family registers, marriages and emigration registers);
  • over a million vital records for Saxony.

Click here for a full description of these records, with direct links to each dataset. Happy hunting for your German roots!

Indiana Genealogy Records to be Digitized by Ancestry.com

ebook ereader for Mac Digital Genealogy books at Google BooksA recent news article at Indianapublicmedia,org reports that more than 13 million Indiana genealogy records will be digitized and put online–and Ancestry.com is picking up the tab.

Among the records doing online are early 20th-century birth and death certificates and marriage records since 1958. According to the report, it would take the state a decade and over 3 million dollars to digitize these records. So Ancestry.com’s offer to take on the work is a godsend for both the state and those who want to use these records.

The deal gives Hoosier residents the first free access to the digitized records (onsite at the state archives). Three years after the the project is completed (which should happen in 2016), the state archives will offer records for free through its own website. Some records may still have confidentiality restrictions. But this still represents a great step forward for those whose ancestors helped to settle Indiana!

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastLearn more about using vital records in your family history research with these episodes from our FREE Family History Made Easy podcast, a step-by-step series for beginners and those refreshing their skills:

  • Episode 24 on using U.S. marriage records;
  • Episode 25 on using U.S. civil birth records;
  • Episode 4 on using death records and a variety of additional vital records resources in the U.S.

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.

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.