Thursday, August 15, 2013

Harnessing the Power of Online Family Trees

Harnessing the Power of Online Family TreesAt the 2013 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy, Anna Fechter gave a presentation titled “Harnessing the Power of Online Family Trees.” Fechter is the Community Operations Manager at She has worked at for nine years on a variety of products and is currently managing the World Archives Project. Anna has been involved in family history research for 25 years.

“I believe in all things shared and public,” Fechter said. “Some people have wrong stuff [in their trees]. I get that. That’s why you verify.” However, you won’t get the full benefit from trees unless you share, she said.

In Tree Settings trees can be made public or private. Public trees can be seen by subscribers and by others invited by the tree owner. Information about living people is automatically hidden. Private trees can be seen only by those invited by the tree owner. Private Trees are indexed and limited information (name, birth year, and birth place) is shown in search results. This behavior can be disabled so no information is ever disclosed.

Trees can be shared with specific, other people, even if they are not subscribers. (Trees are a free feature.) Invitations can be sent via email, username, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, or AOL Mail. Invitees can be given various levels of access: guest, contributor, or editor. A guest can view the tree and leave comments. A contributor can also add stories and photos. An editor can do anything you can do, including adding, editing, or deleting people. (I think they can even delete the tree.) You can withhold information about living individuals from guests and contributors.

Hints—so-called shaky leaves—alert you to both matching records and matches in other people’s trees. Not everyone feels there is value in knowing about tree-to-tree hinting. Tree-to-tree hinting can be turned off in Site Preferences; shaky leaves will be shown for historical record matches only.

At the top of each page is a leaf overlaid with the number of hints in all your trees that have not been reviewed. This can be turned off altogether or on a per-tree basis. You can also set contact preferences to limit how people can contact you: through e-mail address, anonymously through Ancestry’s online message service, or not at all.

In Site Preferences > Activity Preferences you can set what other members can learn about your activity. Two options are available: “Things I publicly add or post to the site,” and “Personal research activities.”

The Recent Activity page on the Member Connect tab of a person page allows you to see what other members’ are doing in their research. The Suggested Connections page shows information others have about the person, some of which you may not have known before. Once connected, you will be notified when new content is added to their tree for that person. Click the username to see how to contract them. (The “Last Log in” date is inaccurate. They’re working on that.)

All these capabilities help users harness the power of’s online family trees.

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