Trying out 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 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.


  1. Jerry Brown says:

    How do you keep private the research that others have done and asked you to not share?
    I have found the shaking leaves pretty much useless except for some stories and pictures. These are often from my tree and posted by people I asked not to share!
    I have had no problem when I asked a private tree for information or when someone asks me.
    My friend who is a New Englander with a huge tree finally went to Family Tree Maker to solve the source fiasco and even that was painful.

    • Jerry, speaking for my research only, I’m putting in my tree only those items whose sources I have personally seen (or a digital facsimile). So I don’t think I will have that as a concern, but I really appreciate you bringing that up.

      For me, right now, the shaking leaves are a direct route to the census and other documents I’d already found and sourced in Reunion but that weren’t hyperlinked in the sources. So rather than having to do a search to find a census document, for example, it’s right there in a shaking leaf.

  2. Frances Jackson says:

    I’ve been using for several years. However, I use Family Tree Maker for Mac (started with FTM for Windows / switched to Reunion when I switched to Mac / switched back to FTM when they started making versions for Mac).

    When I first started, I looked at every shaky leaf and every other family tree my family member was in and ‘used’ the information I found. I wasn’t so good at documenting…which I am paying for now!

    This year I’m trying to focus on documentation…I started new trees (separated with my parents as the home person instead of me (although thinking about switching to grandparent surnames as individual trees) and I don’t add any information unless I have a source. I’ve been focusing on finding things like census records, marriage/birth/death records, military, etc. In fact, when I look at the hints, I click ‘ignore’ for ALL of the other family trees on ancestry that my family member is in, as well as photos and stories. It ‘hides’ those hints and I can go back and look at it in the future, after I have dealt with all of the other document hints that Ancestry gives me. Keeps me from being tempted to delve into other people’s research until I have finished my little project of documentation.

    • Frances, perhaps I should check out FTM for the Mac, though until now I’ve liked Reunion. I’ve been good about not accepting the information found in other trees without thorough investigation, but I think your idea of automatically clicking “Ignore Hint” for all the other trees that Ancestry offers up in the shaking leaves is a good one. Like you, I’m focusing on the document hints but yesterday I was delving into other people’s trees, which wasn’t a great use of my time! Thanks so much for your comment.

      • Frances Jackson says:

        I like FTM for Mac better than Reunion…maybe that it because it is the program that I started out with and only used Reunion because that is what I could find at the time. It automatically syncs with Ancestry, so you don’t have to worry about whether the information you found on Ancestry was entered into your computer program or vice versa. And I believe you do have the options of making things private on Ancestry, even if your tree is public. Another thing is it is also a sort of a backup for your files (although I do back up to an external hard drive too!). I just find FTM so much easier and less confusing that trying to use another program that doesn’t sync with Ancestry!

  3. Janine,

    I have had my family tree public on Ancestry for years now. And I’ve been able to connect with cousins because of it, which is great!

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. I too have had my trees on Ancestry for years — and I have used Family Tree Maker (FTM) on my hard drive for years too. When I abandonded Windows and Dell a few years ago, I got Reunion and started the painful process of switching my data from FTM to Reunion and of getting used to the new interface. But then FTM finally came out with a version for Mac. . . and THEN with a version that will syn trees on Ancestry with trees on FTM for Mac. This solves the problem of having to be meticulous about keeping two tress updated and in syn with one another.

    I find the hint leaf useful except when the hint is to other trees. I will look at other tress sometimes to see if they are sourced or for possible clues to guide my own research possibilites, but otherwise find them rarely useful because they only contain what I already have or they are wildly inaccurate. I even wrote Ancestry and suggested they make the leaf turn a nice autumn orange/red when all that is in the hint is only to other trees so I can ignore it until it turns green again, but I never heard back from them.

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