Wednesday, December 19, 2007

News for 19 December 2007

There are several news items of particular note today. I can't decide whether to post a single article with a little about all of them, or separate articles that go more in-depth and risk not getting to them all.

New Learning Center at Ancestry

Ancestry has launched an all new Learning Center. See it at A moment or two after you arrive on the page, Megan Smolenyak will start moving and speaking to you. There's lots of good information for new genealogists or new users of If you're an explorer like me, there's lot's of neat little nooks and crannies to explore.

Ancestry has some nice-looking email newsletters. I used to be embarrassed how poorly they were presented in the learning center. Check it out for yourself. Here's the same article presented with the old design and the new design. Check out this week's Ancestry Weekly Journal.

New Tree Features at Ancestry

You may have noticed last night that Ancestry's Member Trees were inoperable. An announcement on the Ancestry Blog by Kenny Freestone stated, "We're doing this because we are rolling some really cool new features to the site. ... We apologize for the downtime, and hope to delight you with the new features you'll find when we are back up!"

If you were expecting another post on the blog today announcing these great, new features, you were disappointed. Instead of talking about the jaw-dropping new features, Ancestry took the opportunity to announce the March 2008 retirement of Online Family Tree.

Hmmm. Was that really the best way to follow-up the excitement generated by the first post? I am grateful that Ancestry announced beforehand that the Ancestry Trees would be unavailable last night. It always aggravates me when Ancestry has planned downtime and then doesn't tell their users beforehand.

Maybe Freestone is doing a "soft rollout." Ancestry does that quite often. They'll roll something new and not tell anyone so that they can see how it performs under light loading. After they've worked any kinks out, then they tell everyone.

If that's the case, I'm sorry I'm spilling the beans. But after last night's announcement I poked around today until I found something new.

Ancestry trees will now give you hints when it finds individuals in other people's trees that match individuals in your own! I don't know all the ins and outs yet, but I've already located pictures that I don't have of my ancestors in other people's trees.

I'm pretty savvy when it comes to searching Ancestry, so I don't expect to find any ancestry records attached to other people's trees that I haven't attached to my own. Or should I say, I didn't expect to find any. I've already found some that, no doubt, I could have found if I had had the time to work on that line. I can see I'm going to love this new feature.

I still need to try attaching these records from others' trees to see how effortlessly the records and photographs come over. And I don't yet know where the "pay wall" separates functionality offered to subscribers vs. non-subscribers. I know that non-subscribers can build trees, upload photos, and invite other non-subscribers to see, upload to or change trees. So who knows, maybe they'll get most of this new functionality. I'll just have to perform some investigations.

So far, the feature looks terrific. This marks a new (for Ancestry) and interesting way of enabling collaboration that diverges from FamilySearch's strategy of one, shared tree. It will be fun to see how the two play out and how the two might cooperate.

Ancestry and FamilySearch Do a Deal

Speaking of cooperation between the two, The Generations Network (TGN) and FamilySearch announced today an agreement restoring full access to starting today in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the 13 largest regional family history centers (FHCs). While the announcement stated that they "hope to expand access to other family history centers in the future," how would you like to be a patron of the largest FHC that didn't get access?

The agreement comes 8 months after TGN withdrew access of from FHCs. The move was widely believed to signal a falling out between the two. Officials from both organizations maintained that the two enjoyed good relations.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but TGN CEO, Tim Sullivan, said “We’ve enjoyed a ten-year working relationship with FamilySearch, and we look forward to continued collaboration on a number of family history projects.” What would you say if I told you that Tim, my close, personal friend, had taken me into his confidence and told me some of the collaborations being considered?

Fine. If you don't believe I know anything, then I guess I have nothing to say about it.


Stay tuned...

Fixes Needed in New FamilySearch

Here's my wish list for improvements to New FamilySearch (NFS).

  • Visual interface for Combine, so people will stop combining fathers and sons together.
  • Implement the concept of Groups like Microsoft Office does for graphical elements. In PowerPoint one can not only group several objects together, one can group several groups together. In terms of NFS, it would be nice if combining a father and son together produced a group of two groups which, when ungrouped resulted in the original two groups (the father and the son).
  • Implement Wikipedia's History Tab concept so one can easily Undo or Redo changes made to a person, including combining.
  • Implement Wikipedia's Discussion Tab concept. In particular, a discussion should be created anytime two people are separated so one can leave a message discussing why those two shouldn't be re-combined. Any attempt to re-combine the two would require the user to view the discussion before permitting the combine. After performing the re-combine, the user would be required to add a message to the discussion explaining why.
  • Implement Wikipedia's automatic toggle suspension concept so that once a change has been toggled back and forth a certain number of times, the change is frozen and further toggling is prevented until an administrator intervenes.
  • Implement concepts Wikipedia's uses for quality control. Sometimes thought of only in terms of vandalism prevention, automated agents are important for general quality, detecting unintentional damage, and directing the attention of the community.

If you can't tell, I believe Wikipedia has arrived at a workable model of collaboration on a grand scale and NFS should learn from and follow it as much as they can.

Lab Takes a Whack at New FamilySearch

I'm out of time and I haven't talked about the FamilySearch Labs announcement Monday. I guess you're on your own. Read about it and see sample screens here.


  1. Again, your thoughts echoed my own. Here was this promise of improvements -- then nothing except a confusing (to a 2006-inception subscriber who didn't really know what type of tree he was building online) restrictive announcement rather than an expansive one.

    You warned that you did not know all the ins and outs yet, but I'm curious if the new hints and photos are pulled from both public and personal trees or just public trees.

    Also, wondering if all uploaded photos for an individual are made available or just the primary photo.

  2. Looks like to me like personal trees are private member photos and are searchable and to view them you have to contact the member.

    Public photos are searchable and you can view the thumbnail of the photo for free - but can only view the regular size photo if you have a subscription. And, if you're a subscriber, ancestry will sell you a copy of the photo ("order high quality prints").

    Not sure if all the uploaded photos are searchable.... Those that I've left attached to my tree all show up in the search.

  3. "....What would you say if I told you that Tim, my close, personal friend, had taken me into his confidence and told me some of the collaborations being considered?...

    Did I miss something?

    In this case, doesn't "my close, personal friend" = boss?

  4. Wyler,

    Thanks for your comments.

    New hints and photos are pulled only from public trees.

    All uploaded photos from public trees are made available, not just the primary photo.

    -- The Insider

  5. Dear alwayslooking,

    Yes, Ancestry keeps two different databases of photos. Those attached to public member trees are put in the Public Member Photos database. Photos attached to personal (i.e. private) member trees are put in the Personal (i.e. private) Member Photos database.

    As you reported, when searches are made on the photo databases, thumbnails are only shown from the public member photos database.

    For either public or private member photos, you'll need a subscription to proceed to viewing the photo (if public) or contacting the contributor (if personal).

    You noticed the ability to have prints made. Ancestry has tried to provide the standard photographic services offered by other photo upload sites. You can get shirts, mugs, etc. I believe Ancestry partnered with QOOP to provide this service.

    I'll talk more after Christmas about the really cool things you can do with photos.

    -- The Ancestry Insider

    P.S. Did you miss something? Let me check. "Close, personal friend." "Took me into his confidence." Nope, I think you got it all. ;-)

  6. Now, it might be really cool stuff... but I tend to cringe when I think every photo I upload to my tree is fair game for Ancestry to sell. Even if it's a coffee cup with a picture of my great grandfather on it - or a t-shirt with the likeness of my grandmothers' dead baby sister.

    I tend to think of my family photos as mine. And, yes, I made the choice to upload them - or not upload them. I'd just like Ancestry to "spell it out" somewhere on the build a tree that other people can buy "Stuff" with my family pictures on it.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.