Saturday, September 10, 2011

Can I Get an Amen?!

Lisa Arnold of“I want to know with confidence that my tree is sound,” said Lisa Arnold. “Can I get an amen?”

Ask a room full of genealogists if they want sound trees on She got an amen. She got a big amen!

Lisa Arnold, of made the remarks in her session, “Online Trees: Ancestry’s Powerful Tool Keeps Getting Better!” at the 2011 annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

After the perfunctory big, impressive numbers (1.6 million paying subscribers, 6 billion records, 25 million trees with 2.5 billion profiles, and 60 million user contributed photos, documents, and stories) Arnold showed an video from YouTube (which I’ve posted before). It is titled, “Behind the Scenes at”

To see online, go to

It is no secret that I love’s Member Trees. Yes, I still have friends at and does curry my favor. No, that is not why I keep my own tree there. Arnold gave the reasons:

  • I can perform a search about an ancestor without retyping their information every time.
  • I can connect records to the people in my tree.
  • It is free. To be clear, the previous bullet items require a subscription, or a family member with a subscription who trusts you enough to share their tree with you. But the following bullet items are available for free (if you are willing to give up your e-mail address to
  • I can upload photos and documents. To preserve these kinds of things, you want to have more than one copy. Having a copy online is a nice backup for the copy on your computer.
  • I can easily publish posters and books. With the click of a button, will take the photos from my tree and build a pedigree poster or the skeleton of a book.

Another reason some people like trees is the ability to make contact with other relatives. (This can be done without disclosing personal information.) I contribute so much more than I get, that isn’t much incentive for me. But Arnold shared some amazing stories.

One woman discovered a picture of herself with her great grandmother; she had never seen it before. (Inadvertent disclosure of information about living people is one weakness of the tree system. I uncovered the names of children of several executives because they captioned photographs with the names of their children and then attached the photographs to deceased ancestors. Lesson: Don’t do that. But I digress… Back to amazing stories.)

One woman lost contact with her sister 27 years ago and after exhausting all avenues for finding her, had given up. Not long ago a leaf appeared in her Ancestry Member Tree next to her father’s name. That struck her as curious. The leaf signaled that had found a possible match in another member’s tree. She contacted the owner and couldn’t believe her eyes. The owner was her sister. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she wrote. “I was so excited and moved until all I could do was laugh and cry all at once.” The two have been in constant contact since, catching up on their lives.

New Stuff

I think I shared some of these new features before, just after NGS. If so, I apologize. A caveat goes with vendor lists of new features. “New” is a relative term; until there is something sexier to market, you get the same old list. (Maybe having nothing new to say is why’s upper management seems to have boycotted FGS.)

  • With Family Tree Maker (FTM) 2012, you will be able to sync your online tree with your local FTM file. FTM 2012 is in beta, but you can pre-order it online at for a savings of 20%.
  • “View relationship to me” is an easy way to see how people are related.
  • There is a new pedigree view. It can expand to fill your monitor.
  • There is more control when merging census families into your tree. “Not a match” prevents merging incorrect records. “Not a new person” allows manual linking when isn’t able to find an existing match.
  • has an iPhone/iPad app. Very cool. I need to get me one of those… It does not yet show hinting, allow integrated search, or support Android. Those features are supposed to be coming. But you can attach photographs you’ve just taken.

Copyright Infringement

You got’s attention, thank you, with your comments to my article, “Ancestry Removing Find a Grave Photos?” Arnold said she was asked by management to add a slide on copyright infringement. It made these points:

  • If you take photos from any website without permission and especially proper attribution, you run the risk of having a cease and desist issued.
  • wanted it clear that they tell users: “Be aware that content, including photographs, even if submitted to a site of which you are a member, belongs to the creator or submitter and you should not reproduce it without permission of the owner.” (I can just hear the lawyers in the background. “It’s not our fault! It’s not our fault!”)
  • As an alternative, suggests using Web Links. (I sure liked using the browser toolbar to establish web links. Too bad it no longer works in Firefox—despite Firefox having a larger market share than Internet Explorer.)
  • You can also create a source that links to “the Find A Grave memorial.” (Yes, they mentioned Find A Grave explicitly. I’m tellin’ ya; you got their attention.)

If you have questions, contact (Ya’ got’ta love nameless corporations.)

Garbage Trees

When teaching a class Arnold assigned students to start a tree and enter their family. The next week, one student reported that she had entered a tree and now had 19,000 people in her tree. Arnold said she had obviously not taught the subject well. “Are you sure you’re related to all those people?” she asked. “Well, told me I was.”

“Don’t you do that!” said Arnold sternly. “When you build your tree, have your family information with you.” Only after you have entered well sourced information should you look at other trees.

Amen to that.


  1. How secure is That's an awful lot of personal information being stored there. What steps has, is and will take to make their site as secure as possible?

  2. AI, great post with pointers to key cautionary notes regarding trees.

    You said, "As an alternative, suggests using Web Links. (I sure liked using the browser toolbar to establish web links. Too bad it no longer works in Firefox—despite Firefox having a larger market share than Internet Explorer.)"

    Just want to make sure that your parenthetical item, regarding Firefox and the Toolbar, was not intended to refer to the more general case of web links. On each AncestryMemberTree person-Overview page is a spot to add web links at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar.

    However, the web links seem not to be included when one downloads an AMT into FamilyTreeMaker2012 (at least in the beta versions), and may not be reconstituted once this tree is uploaded again as an AMT (which is required for making the FTM2012-AMT synchronization work). Other items from AMTs evidently do not survive the download into FTM2012, but we will see what they are once the final version is released and tested by users.

  3. Re: Copyright Infringement aren't those 4 points interesting. Seems like I've read three of them some place before... Oh, yeah, now I remember: they were in items 1 & 2 in my first response to that blog post. They are the same points I have been making to Ancestry's copyright department for a long time (years, actually). When I made those points to John-David Anderson, he responded that it was not Ancestry's "job" to send their users to law school...

    However, the claim that Ancestry "wanted it clear they tell users: 'Be aware that content,' etc." is only partially correct. It is buried in the Content Submission Agreement that you must agree to (or at least push the button that you agree to) the first time you upload media. While there is a reminder that you previously agreed to it on each media upload screen, you never have to look at it again. That's not exactly "clear they tell users". Clearly telling them would be a pop-up every time a media item is uploaded; or the statement being placed right there on the upload screen....out in the open, perhaps in an orange "attention getting" box.

  4. I love the web links feature but I've found that many users have no idea that it's there until I point it out. I would love to see it moved up the column or better yet, add a tab like there is for comments.


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