Sunday, November 2, 2008

Introducing the “Ancestry Toolbar”

I love One idea I pushed while I was at was a browser toolbar. To the best of my knowledge, no actual work was started before I left. Now, a little short of four months later... (Yikes! Four months! I forgot to exercise my stock options! Shoot!, I don't suppose you'd give me a 30-day extension? But I digress...)

I suppose someone may have been working on it, but as fast as's developers are, it wouldn't surprise me if this entire project has been put together since I left. It looks like they've utilized some Yahoo code libraries or such to do it.

"To do what?" you ask?


The Ancestry Toolbar.

To see their announcement, click on Introducing the Ancestry Toolbar. Basically, it's a browser toolbar that lets you attach information and photos you find on the Internet to your Ancestry member tree.

I love this concept. I still need to try out their implementation, however. Attaching a record you find on the web to your Ancestry member tree is analogously to attaching records that you find on the website. This is really slick stuff and is another step forward in allowing researchers to pursue "source-centric" genealogy.

Private message to Kenny

Dear Kenny ('s product manager for trees),

Kudos! And thank you very much.

I have some suggestions to make trees even better. Your approach is, of course, photograph and text-blob driven because you suspect it will appeal to a broader audience. That's fine, because even serious genealogists, as opposed to those interested more in winning the game of pedigree bingo blackout than they are in a laborious search for people to whom they can prove a relationship, even serious genealogists like and enjoy photographs and biographies. In fact, I'd venture to say we enjoy them even more, being more likely to savor the real people we come to know through rigorous and thorough seeking. And that's not even factoring in the important research tool that these artifacts are.

There are three simple improvements you can make to's tree system that would give a huge return in capability.

  1. Treat web-based and disk-based records and artifacts on an equal footing.
  2. Treat Add a life event and Save record to tree on an equal footing.
  3. Treat records on an equal footing with records.

For each of these three points you have code that conceptually does the same thing in two different ways. You already have all six pieces of code. A little UI work, a little duct tape, and voilà: magic.

Let me elaborate.

  • I can upload photos from my local disk. In the same interface, let me also specify web addresses.
  • I was too lazy to try this. If I use my browser to view a photograph file on my local computer, will the Ancestry Toolbar work if I click Save? What about a photograph file out on the web? Or does it only work when viewing an HTML page?
  • There are two ways to add a life event to the timeline on the Person Page (Add a life event and Save record to tree) and neither one gets it totally correct.
  • Add a life event lacks the ability to produce the historical record link on the timeline display:
    Add a life event can't produce an event that has a historical record link
  • Save record to tree doesn't support the full range of life events or key pieces of information for many databases as does the Add a life event code. There is no way to set the event type or to add desired fields. In the example below, date and location are known, but the tree system doesn't allow specification of a residence event or the date and location.
    Save record to tree doesn't allow event specification or addition of missing fields
  • If I upload a photograph of a record, no life event is added to the timeline.
  • If I use the Ancestry Toolbar to Save a record, no life event is added to the timeline.

Making these three improvements would make the premier online tool for source-centric genealogy.

We now rejoin our regular blog article, already in progress

More information about the Ancestry Toolbar can be found in the Ancestry Toolbar Help.

Download the toolbar here from


  1. "Making these three improvements would make the premier online tool for source-centric genealogy."


    That quote and your overall post make it seem like you think this toolbar is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well I am sure Ancestry's marketing department thinks so.

    Let's look at the "sources" subscribers will be adding to their trees: unsourced trees of others (which is alread going on), unsourced "stories" they find in message board and mail list posts, genealogical articles and summaries *of other people*, etc. It will basically allow someone to sticky note the web on their trees.

    What does that sound like? Oh yeah, the Internet Biographical Collection. Except collected by individual subscribers and now available to other subscribers through their trees. Nice way to slip other people's (perhaps copyrighted) work through the backdoor after the front door was shut in the Bio Collection's face.

    And again, all these subscribers who lack meaningful genealogical methodological and analytical skills will just be applying derivative source on top of derivative source and continuing to make serious mistakes in genealogical identity on their own to go with those of others they collect.

    I'll just take the sliced bread.


  2. Insider,

    Mike's observations are much to the point.

    Ancestry does not really have much in the way of actual local and vital records that can be used for evidence-based genealogy beyond Census enumerations. Most of what is on the web is repetitions of junk lifted in the same manner as the 'toolbar' is intended to do.

    If one can't even attach a census enumeration *page image* to a tree instead of Ancestry's highly error-prone transcripts of those for a given family group, the toolbar just continues pseudo-genealogical web muck.

    Ancestry should change its website name to "Widely Held Mistaken Beliefs."


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