At the recent BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy, Michelle Ercanbrack addressed the topic, “Getting the Most From Ancestry.com.” Ercanbrack presented three major areas of the Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com home page without a search form just doesn’t feel right. My other main column widgets are “What’s Happening at Ancestry.com” 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 Ancestry.com (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, Ancestry.com Blog, and Message Board Favorites.
The menu bar (circled in red at the top-left in the image, above) is the main navigation tool of Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com. They make it easy to share your data with family and to connect with other Ancestry.com 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.
Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com: 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 Ancestry.com 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).
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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com subscription.
Ancestry.com’s trees are famous for their “shaky leaves,” which indicate that Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com, but I’m always running into links on FamilySearch.org 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 Ancestry.com 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 FamilySearch.org. I had to laugh when she said, “Truthfully, FamilySearch gives me hives.”
Next time: searching.