Trying out Ancestry.com family tree

Ancestry family tree screenshot from iPhoneThanks to the lively discussion here earlier this month about public vs private family trees on Ancestry, I decided to go ahead and create a GEDCOM file from my Reunion software and upload it to Ancestry. I  considered the pros and cons of a public tree, as expressed in the comments of that post (I so appreciate the comments!), and decided to make the tree private when I uploaded it, do some quality control, and then make it public once it’s ready.

I’d been keeping all my data on my computer in Reunion, rather than on Ancestry, because I don’t like to rely on cloud-based databases; I really like the information to reside on my hard drive. But I decided to upload the file for four reasons:

  • I’m intrigued by the prospect of the shaky-leaf hints (though I understand they often lead nowhere).
  • I would like to find cousins.
  • I would like to help others with my research.
  • I just did an Ancestry DNA test and I want to be able to link the results to a tree to give me maximum return.

So I uploaded the tree this week, which was very easy. But then I hit a snag. I am meticulous about not adding any ancestor for which I don’t have a source to my tree. Everything is sourced. But the sources don’t upload in a satisfactory manner. The source is noted in non-hyperlinked text. So the source is there, but isn’t as helpful to others (or me) as I was expecting. (I did a google search and apparently that’s just the way Reunion talks to Ancestry.)

The shaky leaf hints, though, make it easy to add many of these sources as hyperlinks that others can click on. So yesterday, I spent some time going through the hints, evaluating them, and adding them to records. I’m starting with the Rasco family (that’s my father’s mother’s family, and this quarter’s focus).

Two challenges came to the forefront immediately. One is keeping my Reunion software updated while I’m adding things to my Ancestry tree. (In other words, if I come across new data that’s not already in Reunion, I have to be diligent about adding it to Reunion as well as to the tree.) The other is overwhelm. I need to take this one person at a a time, and try not to skip around or get lost in exploring and evaluating other people’s research on my family members.

For the moment, the tree is still private as I get a handle on the source situation. But i intend to make it public soon. I’m already so grateful for those who have public trees.

I think ultimately I’ll be glad that I have put my tree on Ancestry. It seems to have potentially added another layer of complexity (and work) to my research activities–and I really do like to keep things simple. But once I get through this source situation, I think it will be great to have an online tree and I’ll be delighted if it helps others and helps me meet new-to-me cousins.

Making organizing easier

How to make organizing your genealogy easierIf you’re like me, the thrill of doing genealogy research is about uncovering clues and putting them together to make exciting discoveries. It’s about connecting me with others. And it’s about being a detective.

If you’re going to do a good job of putting clues together, your information needs to be organized. If you research without keeping track of your findings, your chances of success–or at least of verifiable success–are reduced. So, in my opinion, it’s critical to keep your genealogy information organized.

But so many people don’t enjoy the task of organizing information and papers. So they let an overwhelming backlog build up. I’ve chosen to make my living helping people get organized, so of course I enjoy organizing. But I know that for many people it feels like drudgery. If you’re someone who doesn’t like organizing your family history, how can you make it easier for yourself? I have some ideas.

  • Recognize the importance. Make getting and staying organized a priority by acknowledging that being organized makes you a more effective researcher. When you’re organized, you can easily put clues together and you don’t have to rely on your memory of names and dates–that information is at your fingertips.
  • Divide organizing projects into small chunks. To keep from being overwhelmed by your backlog, work on just a little bit at a time. Set a timer and work for a set (short) period of time. Or organize a small area of your genealogy space–a pile on your desk for example. Keep repeating until your backlog is gone.
  • Stay on top of it. Create a habit of organizing at the end of each session. When you’re finished with a genealogy research session, build in time to file papers or electronic files. Doing this each time you research will keep a backlog from forming again.
  • Jettison the “To File” file. Rather than putting something in a file or pile of papers to be filed later, just file it now.
  • Let go of perfection. There’s no such thing as perfectly organized–don’t even strive for it. Instead, set a goal of being organized enough.
  • Let it be easy. I always say that organizing systems should be as complex as they need to be and not one bit more. Don’t make yourself jump through hoops to put things away. (See my blog post How accessible are your genealogy materials? for more information on that.)

If you get through your backlog in small chunks at a time and create a habit of organizing as you go, you can stay organized relatively painlessly. And I’m willing to bet that if tend to resist organizing, this will make your genealogy research not only more effective but more enjoyable!

Don’t take photo labels at face value

When I was at the Brown family reunion the last weekend in June, I was given a bunch of old family photos that pertained to my branch of the family. Some were duplicates of ones I already had (from the big box of photos my mother gave me). Some I’d never seen before. I was delighted to receive them.

One photo in particular brought home an important lesson: Don’t take the labels on the back of photos as the gospel truth. When a picture has an identifying label I tend to assume that the label is accurate, in the absence of any information to the contrary. But that’s not necessarily the case.

I was given this photo of a little girl.

My mother as a young girl

I know that it’s a photo of my mother, because I’ve seen many photos of my mother as a child. She also recognizes it as a photo of herself. My mother’s name when she was a girl was Betty Sue Brown.

This is what’s written on the back of the photo.

Labels aren't always accurate

My mother’s grandmother was Alice Jeffries. I’m assuming that the label was some sort of direction to share the photo with Alice. But it sure seems like it’s identifying the photo, doesn’t it?

Now, I think most people would assume the girl in the photo isn’t married and therefore isn’t Mrs. Jeffries. But what if the label had said “Alice Jeffries” rather than “Mrs. Jeffries?” Then someone who didn’t know what my mother looked like as a child might assume the little girl in the photo was Alice Jeffries.

This is an important reminder to apply critical thinking when looking at photo labels. Don’t take  them at face value; rather, try to find a few other clues to help verify the accuracy of the label, if you don’t know the people in the photos. In this example, Alice was born in 1885, so the attire in the photo would be a clue that it’s not a photo of her. Taking that extra step might help avoid misidentificaton.

Public vs private trees on Ancestry.com

Pubic or private family trees?I keep track of my family tree on my Mac with Reunion software. I do that because I like having my data stored on my hard drive (backed up, of course), rather than in the cloud. When I first started focusing on my genealogy research a few years ago, I created a small family tree on Ancestry.com,  entering a few family members on my father’s side of the family. (Including my father’s paternal grandparents, at left.) But I soon realized that I preferred storing my genealogy data on my computer.

Lately I’ve been thinking that it might be wise for me to add my family tree data to Ancestry.com. That way I could benefit from the shaky leaf hints that Ancestry provides and perhaps make connections with relatives.

I’m dedicated to adding only sourced data to my family tree on Reunion and it would be the same on Ancestry. If I do create Ancestry.com trees, I would continue to keep my data in Reunion as my primary genealogy data storage, updating Ancestry periodically.

But I don’t know whether to make my Ancestry tree public or private. It seems to me that a public tree would be a way to be helpful to others. Am I missing a pitfall or danger of making my tree public, especially since my data will be sourced?

If you have a tree on Ancestry, I’d love to hear whether it’s public or private and what led to that decision. Thank you in advance!!