Thursday, October 27, 2016

Find A Grave Community Event Finds 211,655 New Graves

Photograph of a cemetery by the Ancestry InsiderAncestry’s Find A Grave community event on the 7th through the 9th earlier this month resulted in an additional 211,655 new photographs on Hundreds of volunteers participated in 175 cemeteries worldwide. They provided 8,232 photographs to people who asked for specific grave markers and added 203,448 new memorials.

Thank you, to all the community minded folks who participated. Your contributions enrich us all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 Releases We’re Related App has released a new smartphone app: “We’re Related.” The app appears squarely aimed at capitalizing on social media to spread interest in genealogy in general and Ancestry in particular. Ancestry has tried to do this before. Somehow, sharing census documents hasn’t proven to be a big draw. But they’ve always understood that people are jazzed to find they are related to some big celebrity. Enter: We’re Related.

We're Related by Ancestry title screen

The We’re Related app will tell you what celebrities you are related to and show if and how you are related to your friends. You don’t need an Ancestry account or tree to sign up. But you will need a Facebook account. This is a social media app, after all. Someone has said (s)he was able to sign in with just an Ancestry account. Either that option has since been eliminated, or (s)he didn’t realize the phone was already signed into Facebook. Mine was already logged in, all I had to do was tap “Continue as Anthony.” Before doing so, however, you can tap “Edit This” and withhold some of your Facebook profile from Ancestry: friends, email address, relationships, or birthdate.

We're Related - Facebook login error  We're Related - Facebook Login  We're Related - Facebook permissions 

After logging in you can enable notifications of new relatives.

We're Related - Notification Query

I don’t think it asked me to log into my Ancestry account. Perhaps it was able to piggy-back on my Ancestry app login. Regardless, I could continue with that account or switch to another. The app then invited me to select one or more trees containing relatives. I chose one in which I appear. Despite my having identified myself in that tree, the app double checked my identity.

We're Related - Ancestry Login  We're Related - Choose a Tree  We're Related - Identify Yourself

At this point Ancestry had enough information to search for relatives. There has been conjecture on how Ancestry does this. The app indicates it searches its 70 million public member trees.

We're Related - Finding Relatives

However, swinging from tree to tree like some kind of digital Tarzan trying to find connections between you and people hidden in the jungle would be slow and expensive. Surely they have combined all their member trees into a single shadow tree. Long time Ancestry followers know about One World Tree which they created by combining user trees. You may have seen Ancestry Shaky Leaf hints which Ancestry combined from multiple trees. They obviously have the ability to combine multiple trees.

After a short time Ancestry showed my first relative:

Is the Ancestry Insider a distant relative of Miley Cyrus?

That was a shock. Obviously the app gives erroneous results. I scrolled down and my next result was more believable:

Is the Ancestry Insider a distant relative of Bill Gates?

I can’t wait to call my ol’ cousin Bill! I’m showing up unannounced for Thanksgiving and I’ve added him to my Christmas card list. And after he passes on, I’ll be contesting the will because my omission will totally be an oversight.

Maybe I’ll invite him to use the app too. In the upper-right corner of the screen you can tap and “Invite” all your Facebook friends to download the app. If each person were to convince five other persons to get the app within 24 hours, then in no more than two weeks there would be 30 billion app users.

In the upper-left you can tap to select categories of famous relatives. I’m guessing Ancestry is still loading more of these or I would have gotten hits in more categories. The categories are: all, favorites, actors, business people, artists, writers, criminals, educators, entertainers, explorers, historical figures, journalists, crime fighters, Medal of Honor recipients, military figures, musicians, rich people, politicians, religious figures, royalty, scientists, reformers, sports figures, presidents and wives, and supreme court justices.

Beneath each relative are three icons: a pedigree, a heart, and the standard share icon. Tap the pedigree icon to see your common relative. In the case of Bill Gates, our common ancestor is, according to his picture, a rock. Tap the generational number to see the chain of descent. At the bottom of the chain are thumbs up and down to allow you to indicate if the path looks correct.

The Ancestry Insider's and Bill Gate's common ancestor  Bill Gates line of descent from his common ancestor with the Ancestry Insider  Bill Gates's immediate ancestry

I’ve seen reviews by a couple of popular bloggers who have immediately discovered erroneous lines. Randy Seaver discovered the pedigrees of some well-researched living and deceased famous people are wrong. (See “Fact-Checking My WJB Clinton Relationship - WRONG!”). Judy Russell wrote in “No, Actually, We’re Not Related” that Ancestry found several ancestors who were wrong or dubious. Errors can be introduced when a machine combines trees. More likely, the errors existed in the member trees before combining. After years of encouraging users to willy-nilly add dubious shaky leaves to their trees, Ancestry now reaps the results. But for marketing purposes, growing trees has made new users happy and finding famous relatives is going to make We’re Related users happy too. For Ancestry, it’s win-win.

Adjacent to the pedigree icon is a heart. Use it to indicate a relative is a favorite. Adjacent to it is the standard sharing icon, allowing you to share your new found famous relative via email, texting, and whatever social media apps you have installed.

After scrolling through all my results, Ancestry dedicated an entire screen to convince me to invite all my friends. One of the goals of social marketing is, after all, to “go viral.” Inviting a circle of friends also allows you to see if and how you are related.

One of many Ancestry We're Related viral marketing opportunities

There are four icons along the bottom of the screen. The first, “Insights,” is the page on which I’ve been viewing all my relatives. The second is “Tree.” Here I can edit or extend my Ancestry Member Tree. Ancestry can’t do its magic until my tree goes back far enough to connect to the shadow tree. I can also invite relatives to get the app and edit my Ancestry Member Tree. I imagine if a user doesn’t have an Ancestry tree, We’re Related prompts them through creation of one.

We're Related - Tree Display

The third icon is “Nearby.” According to the app:

We’re Related Nearby lets you find relatives who are literally close to you. We use your location to check if there are others using this feature within 500 yards of you. If so, we’ll tell you if you’re related. If you don’t want to know, go to “settings” and turn off your location.

We're Related - Nearby Users

The remaining icon accesses sharing and settings. To maximize their viral possibilities, Ancestry allows sharing via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, texting, and more.

We're Related - More Options

If you don’t mind helping Ancestry’s marketing efforts, and if you don’t mind sharing personal details from your Facebook profile, and if you want a little gratification at the expense of accuracy, Ancestry’s We’re Related app is a fun bit of entertainment. Download it at

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ancestry’s Nathan Murphy Elected Fellow of ASG

Nathan Murphy of Ancestry Progenealogists elected FASGNathan Murphy of subsidiary, ProGenealogists, was elected earlier this month as a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. The society is an independent honorary organization composed of 50 leading, published, genealogists. Election is for life.

According to the ASG website:

Election to The American Society of Genealogists is based on a genealogist’s published work. Emphasis is upon compiled genealogies and published works that demonstrate an ability to use primary source material; to evaluate and analyze data; to properly document evidence; and to reach sound, logical conclusions presented in a clear and proper manner.

As vacancies occur, any Fellow may propose a genealogist he or she feels meets the Society’s exacting standards. Election requires action by at least half of the membership present at an annual meeting and fails if the affirmative vote is less than eighty percent of those voting. All proceedings of the ASG are privileged and Fellows may not disclose the name of any person under consideration.

Nathan was elected as the society’s 165th member. He has had numerous articles published in the major genealogical journals over a decade and has received numerous awards. Ancestry ProGenealogists employs another fellow, Gordon Remington. Some of the other fellows are Elizabeth Shown Mills, Tom Jones, Hank Jones (who wrote the book—literally—on serendipity in genealogy), and Kip Sperry.

I had the privilege of working with Nathan at FamilySearch. Congratulations!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Oops

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxA user posted a comment about my article, “Darned Records: I’m My Own Grandmother.” It appears we’ve been had.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I regret to inform you that the Florida Sun Post is a fake or satirical news publication:

Joe Lowry

Dear Joe,


The Ancestry Insider

Dear Ancestry Insider,

I have been busy of late and decided after reading [“FamilySearch Adds 141 Million New Record Hints] article that for a few hours today I would have some fun and go back to the LDS site but alas they wouldn't let me sign on so I tried to make a new membership and password and they said I was already a member and to please sign in but when I tried to sign it it said I wasn't a member and would I please create a new password and so I did and on and on and on until I finally thought they got it and a sign came on that said, "timed-Out." I do hope that others don't have as much trouble as I had or they will lose more members than they will ever gain. Trick or treat?


Dear Connie,

If it is still happening, send me your username and email address and I will look into it.

Account management is one of the most difficult aspects of FamilySearch. In fairness, account management is difficult on many websites. Mastering the art of username and password recovery is a good skill to have. For many websites I use infrequently, I don’t bother writing down a password; I just use password recovery every time I use the website. To recover a username or password, you do need to have access to email. And unless you are on your own computer, you will need your email username and password.

I helped a lady in the Family History Library one day. She was in your same predicament, but she could not remember her email password. If you forget both your email password and website password, it can be hard recovering access to that website.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

FamilySearch Adds 141 Million New Record Hints

FamilySearch Record HintsTwo years ago FamilySearch added a feature (available on for many years): record hints. FamilySearch compares names from its historical records with names in FamilySearch Family Tree. “When we put the data together for comparison and find high-scoring matches to people in your family tree, that’s what we call a hint,” explained Robert Kehrer, FamilySearch senior product manager. “In essence, the search engine is constantly working to make research discoveries for you without your having to do much more than login, validate what it found, and accept the hints.”

FamilySearch’s historical records contain five billion names. FamilySearch Family Tree contain 1.2 billion. Comparing the two in September, FamilySearch generated an additional 141 million hints over the 1.5 billion already found. Kehrer said 98.5% of the hints are accurate. Errors occur when persons in the tree have common names, are born in populated places, and have few known relatives, according to Kehrer. (I’m not too familiar with urban research, but it seems to me that companies don’t key enough identifying information about people in big cities. If they would key address, occupation, religion, and other differentiating information for people in big cities, it would be easier for users to find people and would improve the accuracy of their hint system. It shouldn’t be too hard to determine population levels necessitating the keying of additional information. FamilySearch and Ancestry don’t seem to understand the cost/benefit analysis.) Noteworthy among the new hints are those from the 1851 and 1881 England and Wales censuses.

To enlist the FamilySearch hinting system to find records of your ancestors, their names must exist in Family Tree. If they are not already there, you can add them at no cost. If you do, be prepared to defend your conclusions to other descendants. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; we should all be able to do that. Also, because of the uneven experience level of tree participants, expect to spend time teaching others with less experience.

For more information, see “FamilySearch Adds 141 Million Family History Record Hints” in the FamilySearch newsroom.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Mailbox: Entering Unknown Persons in Family Tree

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I know nothing about the parents of my 4x-great-grandmother Mrs. Betsey Ann Embody.

However, from a newspaper report shortly prior to her death, I do know that she was visited by a sister, "Mrs. Hodge of Herkimer." I can create a person named "Mrs. Hodge" in the FamilySearch Family Tree, but to link them as siblings, I need to create at least one person who is a parent to both of these women.

Is there a best practice for naming these people so that I don't interfere with other users' searches and with FamilySearch's record hinting and duplicate matching? Or should I not be creating people when I know absolutely nothing about their names, and instead use notes to record this information until I learn more?

Thanks for any insight you can share.

Jason Thompson

Dear Jason,

This is, indeed, a quandary. FamilySearch Family Tree—and any other tree system that I’m aware of—doesn’t support a true sister relationship. Under the covers, they only support parent-child and spouse-spouse relationship types. Under the covers, they also don’t have a placeholder feature for a parent of a person without a known surname. That’s not a problem in a personal tree. You do whatever suits you, such as creating a parent named “Parent of Betsey Ann [—?—]” and attaching both children. In a shared tree, you don’t have that latitude. You have a responsibility to the thousands of other users of the tree. Such a construct would be confusing and could lead to disastrous merges.

There’s also the issue of independent verification of the sister relationship. In my experience, people sometimes use relationship terms—like sister—ambiguously. I’ve found that particularly so in newspapers where the local town gossip—um, I mean “Around Town” newspaper reporter—makes unfounded assumptions. Mrs. Hodge may be a step-sister, a sister-in-law, or an organizational sister.

I would use the notes option. Reasonably exhaustive research may uncover Betsey Ann’s surname.

The Ancestry Insider

Friday, October 14, 2016

Darned Records: I’m My Own Grandmother

UPDATE 21 OCTOBER 2016:Reader Joe Lowry posted this comment: I regret to inform you that the Florida Sun Post is a fake or satirical news publication:


Man marries his biological granddaughter.We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about the past. Yet sometimes records have anomalies. Some are amusing or humorous. Some are interesting or weird. Some are peculiar or suspicious. Some are infuriating, or downright laughable. Records say the darnedest things!

Certain information flags immediate suspicion in an online tree. Ever see a son who is older than his father? But be careful. One needs to think twice about making assumptions without proof. What would you think if you saw the pedigree of a woman who was her own grandmother? You might be wrong.

According to the Florida Sun Post,

A 68-year old man from Miami’s Golden Beach neighborhood has reportedly had a ‘terrible shock’ after discovering his new bride, a 24-year old woman from Jacksonville, is actually his own biological granddaughter. The couple, who have only been married for three months, made the discovery while looking through a photo album.

When the man showed the woman a photo of his oldest son, the woman identified the son as her father. The man had lost contact with his son when his wife left him. The woman had lost contact with her father when he kicked her out of the house.

Read the entire story on the Florida Sun Post website.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

#RootsTech End of Early Bird Pricing 14 Oct 2016

RootsTech 2017 is February 8-11, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I received this from RootsTech:

Early Bird Discount Expires in Two Weeks!

Save over $100! Regularly priced at $269, you can purchase a RootsTech 2017 4-day pass for ONLY $159. Price expires 2 weeks from today,
October 14. With over 200 classes to choose from, keynote sessions with inspiring speakers, entertaining evening events, huge expo hall, and more, RootsTech 2017 will be THE experience not to be missed.

The cost does not immediately rise to $269. RootsTech uses a stepped approach. The price increases to $189 tomorrow.

Register or get more information about RootsTech 2017 on the RootsTech website.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 Receives Economics Award

Click to see Utah Valley BusinessQ magazine's list of the area's top 50 companies.In their Fall 2016 edition, Utah Valley BusinessQ recognized the top 50 businesses in the area. They rated as the number six “economic engine” in Utah County. Economic engine rankings are based on annual revenue, number of employees, contributions to the local economy, and other factors.

Ancestry described themselves as “the world’s largest online resource for family history and consumer genetics.” They had $683 million in sales last year. They have 1,000 employees in Utah and 1,400 world-wide. They are located in Lehi, Utah in a new $35 million building. There are 75 million searches on every day.

“Hire great people from diverse backgrounds and invest in them,” Tim Sullivan advised.

Read the entire article on the Utah Valley 360 website.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday Mailbox: FamilySearch Sign In “Woahs”

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

Do you happen to know if there is any reason we have to sign in every time we use FamilySearch? Is there any movement afoot to change that?

Ellen Barnett Cleary

Dear Ellen,

FamilySearch is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which holds the reins of the sign in module for The Church takes an aggressive stance on sign in security. FamilySearch previously convinced the Church to allow users to remain signed in for two weeks. However, that feature doesn’t work quite right for me; I am signed out every time I visit Is that what is happening to you? For me, selecting Sign In signs me in again without requiring password entry until the two weeks have expired.

If I recall correctly, someone asked Ron Tanner that same question at RootsTech. If I recall correctly, he said that FamilySearch would like to lengthen out how often one must sign in, but couldn’t say if it would ever happen.

---The Ancestry Insider