Ancestry.com 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.
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.
After logging in you can enable notifications of new relatives.
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.
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.
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:
That was a shock. Obviously the app gives erroneous results. I scrolled down and my next result was more believable:
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.
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 Ancestry.com 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.
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.
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.
The remaining icon accesses sharing and settings. To maximize their viral possibilities, Ancestry allows sharing via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, texting, and more.
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 www.wererelated.com.