Wednesday, August 6, 2014 Trees - #BYUFHGC

Michelle ErcanbrackAt the recent BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy, Michelle Ercanbrack addressed the topic, “Getting the Most From” Ercanbrack presented three major areas of the website: trees, search, and DNA.

Ercanbrack showed how to customize the home page. Look for the rather large button on the right hand side of the page. (See the image, below.) Click on it to enter the customization mode. You can choose which of 13 widgets or tools you wish to appear on your home page. Some are designed to appear in the main column and some in the smaller, right column. You can move widgets up and down in their respective columns. In the image below, I have the family tree widget positioned at the top of the main column. My trees are the hub of all my activity on and I like to be able to get to them quickly. In the right-hand column, my first widget is the Records Collection widget. It gives me quick access to U.S. census records and other commonly accessed collections. Beneath my family tree widget is the search widget, which I never use. The home page search widget is too limited for my needs. I would delete it, but somehow an home page without a search form just doesn’t feel right. My other main column widgets are “What’s Happening at” followed by “My Shoebox.” In the right-hand column, I also have the “Recent Activity” widget. It provides quick links to the last three databases and the last three searches. It also has links to my soon to be gone MyCanvas Projects. Finally, I have the “My Quick Links” widget where I save bookmarks to the commonly accessed, but hard to get to pages on (or other websites), like the new databases list or a fellow researches member tree. Other available widgets are: Getting Started, Recent Member Connect Activity, My To-Do List, Jewish Name Variants, Jewish Community Locator, Blog, and Message Board Favorites.

The main navigation menu bar exists on every page. The Customize homepage button is on the home page only. 

The menu bar (circled in red at the top-left in the image, above) is the main navigation tool of and is present on every page (almost). Click on an item, or hover to see a drop-down menu of additional page links.

Ancestry Trees are cool, said Ercanbrack. They are a great place to organize your information. They are an easy way to access records you’ve already found on They make it easy to share your data with family and to connect with other users. They allow you to access your tree from anywhere you have internet access. You can upload digitized family photos and documents from personal collections, or, using the Shoe Box app, from your cell phone camera. They also have Story View, an amazing timeline feature that integrates pictures and documents. It produces bite size visual pieces that are involving to youth. is a “my tree” environment. You can have your own, private tree which you can share at your own discretion with select friends and family members. You can keep your tree totally hidden or allow the general public to see it.

Ercanbrack told us two ways to start a tree on start from scratch or upload a GEDCOM. For LDS subscription users, there is a third: import your tree from FamilySearch Family Tree. Hover over Family Trees on the menu and select Start a New Tree, Upload a GEDCOM, or Import From FamilySearch. You do not have to be an subscriber to build a tree. Only a free registration is required.

You can view your tree in pedigree view (below-left) or family view (below-right). member tree pedigree view member tree family view

To control who can see your tree, click on “Tree Pages” just to the right of the tree title, then click Tree Settings, and finally, Privacy Settings. Set the tree to “Public Tree” to allow everyone to see your tree—except for living individuals. Only the gender of living individuals can be seen by others. Persons are considered living if their birth date is within the last 100 years and the death date field is left blank. Select “Private Tree” to make your tree semi-private. Limited information about deceased individuals in your tree (name, birth year, and birthplace) will appear in search results, but others will not be able to see relationships or anything else in your tree. To make your tree completely private, in addition to selecting “Private Tree,” mark the little box to exclude your tree from search results.

To share your tree, click on “Tree Pages” just to the right of the tree title, and then Share Your Tree. Specify an email address and a role. Then send the invitation. The three roles are guest, contributor, and editor. A guest can see your tree, even if it’s a private tree, and can optionally see living persons. A contributor can also add stories and photos. An editor can also add and edit people. You can share your tree with anyone, even someone without an subscription.’s trees are famous for their “shaky leaves,” which indicate that has found a record that might match a person in your tree. Ercanbrack demonstrated evaluating and attaching a potentially matching record. I’ve run out of time, so I won’t be showing that. It’s worth quickly presenting a helpful hint she gave us. When evaluating a potential match, open the record or image in one browser tab and the comparison page in another. Then you can easily switch back and forth. To open a link in a different tab, right click on it and select Open in New Tab. I use a keyboard shortcut: hold the control key down while clicking the link. The current page stays open in one tab and the new page opens in another. This works quite well on, but I’m always running into links on for which it just won’t work. (But don’t get me started…)

For records like censuses, where an entire family is known, you can attach the record to the entire family at once. Ercanbrack said that her soap box statement for the day was, “Research entire families.” We’re building trees, not poles.

One last thing before closing. I know some people at think that I try to catch their presenters saying something untoward. Not to disappoint them, here’s a quote from Ercanbrack: When questioned about her choice of tree managers, she said she doesn’t use I had to laugh when she said, “Truthfully, FamilySearch gives me hives.”

Next time: searching.


  1. "open the record or image in one browser tab and the comparison page in another"
    Better still is to open one of the pages in a new browser window then you can put the two pages side by side. Much easier to compare when you can see both of them at once.
    familysearch gives me hives, too.

  2. Maybe it's my faulty memory but it seems to me the ancestry trees used to be rather helpful and somewhat accurate. I don't believe that any more. I also don't believe anyone is interested in the correct information when it contradicts what they have. Are there so many more trees that the chances of them being wrong has also increased? I wonder how many people put a tree up and never look at it, the comments, or any shaky leaf again. I recently found a shaky leaf for a relative. There were 7 family trees, obviously copied from each other with exactly the same wrong person listed. My tree is the only one different and the sources are cited. If someone else looks for confirmation of their information they will find 7 wrong trees and one right tree. Which information do you think they will use? Majority rules.

    I suspect the terrible indexing might be from people who are not fluent in English? Like you, I have looked at the original handwritten page and wondered how on earth the transcriber wrote what they did from the information given. My great grandmother is married to the next guy on the page instead of the man in her age group with her same last name in the same house number visited. I've complained to ancestry for 3 years and yet, there she is, the wife of another man who doesn't even have her last name.

    And to top it all off, when a citation is given as a family tree, wouldn't it be nice to actually see the family tree cited? It would sure make things easier to find. Ancestry could fix this so easily. I guess that's why it isn't fixed.


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