Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Tree Indexing Follow-Up

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxReader JudyBG was concerned about the news that was not indexing all persons in Ancestry Member Trees. (See “Monday Mailbox: Ancestry Tree Search Broken.”)

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Oh, that is going to be popular! I have thousands of people on my tree. If I ever could not find it, I don't know what I would do. but it would not be pretty. My tree is extensive because I have sought to make connections others cannot or have not been able to make--I have lots of UK information for families in the US and Canada--and vice versa. I find I enjoy solving the puzzles more than the really in-depth archaeology some people like to do. I am careful and accurate, and I think very helpful, but it does mean my tree is huge and has many very distantly connected people on it.

But what is their criteria? I can see those with only a name--not as sure about those without sources, since that doesn't always mean that tree doesn't have useful information, which they may have gotten out of, say, the family Bible and not sourced it. But to remove trees with lots of names and sources seems INSANE.

I mean as in legally defined insanity.

JudyBG - April 4, 2016 at 12:10 PM

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I feel confused. I think this requires more clarification. Just exactly what will or will not be indexed, and how will this affect the average user? Geolover says it will just be individuals that are unsourced that will not be indexed, but what does that mean--what would that look like on one's tree or trees? Can you write a column explaining this more fully? What does it mean to "index" an individual--or not?

JudyBG - April 5, 2016 at 1:58 PM

Dear Ancestry Insider,

But I am asking a far more basic question. What does it mean to "index" an individual? Or a tree? When they do these upgrades, precisely what are they doing?

JudyBG - April 6, 2016 at 1:02 PM

Dear JudyBG,

You said, “I find I enjoy solving the puzzles more than the really in-depth archaeology some people like to do. I am careful and accurate, and I think very helpful, but it does mean my tree is huge.” Judy, what do you regard as “archaeology”? I trust you have at least two sources for each fact in your tree. Without adequate sources—sources that will stand up to scrutiny—then the accuracy is unknown.

You asked, “What does it mean to ‘index’ an individual or a tree?”

Like a book index, a computer index allows one to easily locate a person in a tree. And just as every name in a book may not appear in the index, every name in a tree may not be in the index. Computer code produces the indexes that uses to find persons in trees.

When you are working in your tree, you can search for persons by clicking the magnifying glass to the right of the tree name on a person page,


or in the upper-right corner of the tree view.


I’m guessing this tree index is unaffected by the change in Ancestry’s indexing code. While working in your own tree, you won’t see any differences.

Ancestry also has code that builds an index that is used to search all Ancestry Member Trees simultaneously. The code that builds the index previously looked at every person in every tree. Obviously, the more persons, the longer the process takes. Ancestry claims more than 6 billion persons in their member trees. (See “Company Facts” on the Ancestry Corporate website as of 9 April 2016.) Each of these persons has a number of facts and relatives associated with them, which are incorporated into the index. If each person had eight facts (such as first name, last name, birth date, birth place, death date, death place, spouse first name, spouse last name, etc.), then the index would incorporate 48 billion facts. All of this, apparently and not surprisingly, overwhelms the Ancestry indexing system.

Ancestry apparently has to decrease the amount of work the code has to do, so that it doesn’t implode. Ancestry creates a list that doesn’t contain as many persons as the full tree. They try to leave out the least valuable names. According to an Ancestry spokesperson’s message board post, they leave out

  • “unusually large people (those with thousands of events or hundreds of immediate family members);
  • those without any sources; and
  • those with only a name.”

How does that affect you? You may see fewer search results when you search across all Ancestry Member trees. And the results that you see will always have sources.

---The Ancestry Insider


  1. to Judy BG - If you are worried about loosing your tree on Ancestry, I suggest you make a backup GEDCOM now and then or sync your data to Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic as you add them to Ancestry. A wise precaution, it seems to me.

  2. Thank you for the explanation. Let me see if I grasp it: When they say they are leaving out usually large people, they don't mean President Taft--or, wait, do they? Not because he was personally large, but because there might be hundreds of events linked to him. So would they leave him out of searches, or would they leave out an entire tree that encompassed him and his whole genealogy--on the assumption that that might be a very large tree for that reason as well?

    I search for as many sources as I can find. Sometimes all I can know is that my six times great grandmother's name was Phebe and that she was married to a man named Nathan Burlinggame, which was information I got from her husband's Revolutionary War pension record. I can't exclude her because there is no other source--but there is no other source. Yet. However, it sounds as if my having a lot of sources, which I often do, as I track down everything I can find, including voter lists, travel, directories, and--of course--census records, wills, births, deaths, marriages, christenings, blah, blah. I often have more than ten sources, and quite often many more--though not for Phebe. But it sounds as if all that works against my tree, and that people looking for information may not be able to find it at all. Or is it that they won't be able to find information on highly sourced individuals on my tree? I am still not clear on this point.

    I have a Mac. No one seems to like any of the genealogy programs for Macs very much. So I never got one.

    I am afraid I don't have the DNA required to be the sort of person who does backup GEDCOM's, but that is no doubt excellent advice for those differently wired. :-)

  3. Sorry--incomplete sentence: However, it sounds as if my having a lot of sources, which I often do, as I track down everything I can find, including voter lists, travel, directories, and--of course--census records, wills, births, deaths, marriages, christenings, blah, blah--IS DETRIMENTAL

  4. I wonder if using Google to search Ancestry trees would result in more complete listings?

  5. I wonder if using Google to search Ancestry trees would result in more complete listings?

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  7. If you USE Ancestry Family trees as your only database, then good luck. Your home computer needs a Genealogy Program YOU can control. The past few years with Ancestry, the YDNA they destroyed, the My-Family sites they shut down, the unsourced trees with only Ancestry Family Tree as a source. They are in control people, its your family, you need to control the content and the sourcing or you are wasting your time. Corporations are in business to make money, not to protect your precious family trees. Like Dick Eastman says Back it up, put a backup off site. Put your trees on the Cloud, put in in your computer database program, put it into your cousins hands, put a copy in the safe deposit box, make paper copies and put it into a binder or give to your children. Homes do catch fire, and flood. And Remember, ANCESTRY FAMILY TREE, IS NOT A SOURCE!!!!!!!!!!! I do not and will not have an Ancestry Family tree.

  8. Is this indexing project limited to Public Trees? Are they indexing Private trees? I keep my tree private and it is heavily sourced.

  9. Some years ago I uploaded a tree to Ancestry using a GEDCOM created by my desktop genealogy software. My tree has never appeared in Ancestry's search results, which flummoxed the customer support person when I called to ask why, but now it appears that the reason is that my tree has no sources.

    I don't attach sources to my Ancestry tree because I maintain all my sources and citations (88,000 citations for 17,000 persons) in my desktop software. Attaching citations in my Ancestry tree by creating links in the tree to Ancestry records would require a staggering duplication of effort, not to mention creating tens of thousands of citations for sources not available at Ancestry.

    Yes, I could include sources in my GEDCOM. But it creates a huge, unwieldy file and in my experience Ancestry's tree function does not render the sources/citations properly. Also, the only way to update a tree is to delete it and upload a new one. I've done this a few times now, only to discover that getting rid of an old tree isn't a simple as one might think.

    I post my tree on Ancestry to encourage others who have mutual research interests to contact me, at which time I will gladly share sources and notes. That Ancestry has thwarted me in this by not indexing my "unsourced" tree is disappointing, to put it mildly.

    My tree is also posted to RootsWeb. It's indexed and searchable, and I can easily keep it updated by overwriting it with a new GEDCOM. Wish it were this simple at Ancestry.

  10. My biggest frustration is with those who have done DNA testing but do not post either their trees or a link to them on their profiles. Why do DNA testing if you don't want your matches to find you??? At least give us a hint, please!

  11. Doris, use GEDmatch, DNA Land and FamilyTreeDNA. Those of us disillusioned with ancestry use other sites. The other sites also have the capability to look at what matches what on which chromosome.

    As for the tree indexing/search results. Twice at least, I have found a person I need in ONE tree with no sources at ancestry. I read every tree and every document for any potential tree. Even when the tree is not primarily for my brick wall, often a sibling or in-law is included and THAT'S who I might be looking for. I've broken 3 brick walls that others had been working on for years. Not every clue came from ancestry but the trees there, no matter how bad, and lots are really bad, have possibilities.

  12. I still have my sources as notes. Some of these notes are extensive. I began this way back in the days when the PAF program was first available and there were no source fields. I kept up the practice in RootsMagic because GEDCOM files did not seem to handle sources well between two different software programs. (This may be better now.) I'm sure that some people I have shared my file with have uploaded these names into Ancestry. Does that mean names with source citations entered only in the notes will not be indexed?