Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Passionate Genealogist is Core - Tim Sullivan at #RootsTech

Tim Sullivan at RootsTechI had the opportunity during RootsTech to sit down with Tim Sullivan, president and CEO of Ancestry. One of the things we discussed was the dichotomy between giving experienced users powerful tools while giving new users an engaging experience. I’ve always felt they compromised the power of core tools by watering them down to suit the new user.

Tim said the passionate genealogist is still the core of their business. DNA is proving to be a phenomenal way to interest new people. While they will give some thought to making core genealogy tools accessible to new users, they are allowing themselves to shift back, improving tools critical to the experienced user. DNA is expanding massively and it is giving them the opportunity and personnel to do some improvements on functionality for the serious genealogist. He mentioned adding intelligent hint prioritization, and “using our big tree to really improve the quality and relevance of hints.”

Tim went on to explain more about their Big Tree. Big Tree is an internal term they use for an effort they’ve been engaged in for many years to stitch together the millions of member trees on Ancestry.com. They are applying machine learning technologies and authority systems and are getting more accurate every day.

“That has always been a little bit of a holy grail, to find that one tree,” Tim said. They are taking a different approach than FamilySearch, but then again, their purposes are different. The Big Tree is not intended to be a product, but something that allows them to develop “some pretty cool capabilities.” One application is their new We’re Related app.

The We’re Related app is a free, entertaining tool for engaging more people in genealogy. “It’s just another way to get a whole new group of people inspired,” Tim said. “What we hope that does is lead them to want to become serious researchers.” The challenge is getting people connected into the Big Tree. Something like 2/3 of people downloading the app are able to connect to the Big Tree, even though they may not have an Ancestry Tree. This is why a Facebook account is instrumental. It helps Ancestry build out  living persons and their relationships. The other necessary step is for Ancestry to add famous living persons to the Big Tree and making certain their branches are correct.

We Remember is another product Ancestry is developing to attract a new audience into genealogy. Just announced at RootsTech, We Remember will allow people to create memorial pages for loved ones. Tim said that We Remember is not a replacement for obituaries. But about the time a loved one passes away there is a lot of energy and motivation to memorialize and capture their life. About a year ago they realized there could be  a better experience for doing this, so they built one. It is social and it is free. “Our goal is that this be very, very broadly adopted,” Tim said. I was, unfortunately, not able to attend the class where it was introduced, so I don’t have any details. While he didn’t give a release date, he said it would be soon.


  1. As I tell anyone who wants to know, if you are doing US or British genealogy you must use Ancestry. The depth of the database, the access to actual digital images of the documents is unmatched.
    That said, I am driven crazy daily by its attempts to make genealogy simpler for the untrained.
    Currently it is BETA testing a package of "facts" to go with the data circles. Previously what you got was the likely joint ancestor and the lines from that ancestor down to you and the potential match.
    This package of information which is a pastiche of family trees is utterly full of misinformation, such as how many kids the ancestor had, thrown off by the fact that many trees include the same kid twice,and all the misinformation that is promulgated in so many trees, ie wrong mother, because most trees are not based on any research, just grabbing repeated information or misinformation. In my case the ancestor is shown with a mother to whom she had no relationship at all. The woman was the mother of her father's consort by whom he had more children. It took alot of research to get it right, but her correct parentage is now fully documented. Just thrown away because Ancestry doesn't make any attempt to evaluate what is good information and what is not. I wouldn't mind if they weren't actively promoting the bad information as they are on the DNA circles.
    Similarly but not as bad, the life story feature sets out as gospel facts which are still in play. It says she and her husband had two children--not true. I just chose to post two children. Or they pick up as a death date when it is posted as "after whatever date." Thus Ancestry is compounding the ongoing problem of promulgating misinformation.

  2. The We're Related app is useless and waste of good space. It was designed by the same bunch of . . . . . . that were in charge of the Ancestry redesign/facelift.

  3. Another example of garbage in garbage out. I take comfort in the words of Sheriff Buford T Justice who after telling his son there was no way he and him were related, resolved that he should smack his sons mother in the mouth for having him. Basically the vast majority of public trees on Ancestry are a joke, so there is no additional harm in replacing one form of garbage with another.

  4. First, thanks very much for this blog - it helps me keep up to speed with the things happening on my genealogy sites.

    I understand the frustration with all of the bad information in Ancestry trees, but on the whole, I think I have gotten a lot of value there, particularly in tracking down the lost siblings of some of my ancestors. Obviously, it is up to me to review and validate the source material, and I wish that was more universally understood.

    Doug Ramsey


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