Welcome back Family Tree Enthusiasts!
I belong to several social media family tree/genealogy sites and I thought I’d post my second post on “User Tips” for people beginning their family tree research via Ancestry.com. I read about a lot of people getting extremely frustrated in this process by things not being fast, easy or free. Let me help you get more out of your research expenses with these tips!
First off I want to point out the following (which you may or may not already know). Family Tree Research is not free by any means. There are things you can do for free but if you want to do a good job on your family tree research as an historical record to pass on to your descendants and share with your current family it is going to be several things but most importantly this:
- Time consuming (this is year 3 for me and I got most of it handed to me in BoB – if you don’t know what BoB is – kindly go to the first post of this blog.)
- Costly – research costs money, subscriptions cost money, documents cost money, internet costs money, printing and organizing costs money. Again – family tree historian – it ain’t free.
I pay about $50 a month for my family tree research. It’s my biggest hobby and I just know that is what it costs me. Sometimes more, but generally this is my budget. It is a gift to my family and I just factor that is gift giving and hobby expense for me. I plan to pay $50 a month until I feel like I’ve got it all and then probably drop some subscriptions down to lower usage, but for now that’s what it is.
Now I realize not everyone wants to devote that amount of time and money toward their family tree research so I’m going to share with you 4 very important tips to go along with my first post about Beginner Use of Ancestry.com.
My pending Ancestry hints as on tonight – 4 Apr 2018.
This is a screen shot of my Ancestry account tonight containing 21,901 hints for a tree of over 5,000 people that ALREADY contains 5,800 documents. I have nearly 22,000 items TO REVIEW! The ancestry web site is amazing IF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT. Are you ready to get more out of your monthly Ancestry.com subscription by doing some simple things that Ancestry will not tell you about?
If so, follow these tips. In this post I’m going to cover 3 main items:
- Other Member Trees & Hints
- The 7 Records I look for first and add to my tree.
- Those Darn Alternate FACTS! and why you need them, all of them.
TIP #1 – Talk about a CAN of WORMS!! OTHER PEOPLE’S TREES
DO NOT USE OTHER PEOPLE’S TREES as the Main Source for your tree building.
Ancestry is FULL of MISTAKES because of this and you will spend tons of money and time trying to untangle the massive cans of worms that this creates. (It’s like a that game where you pass the message in secret around a circle and then when you get to end the message isn’t even close to what you started with.)
I know you want to do this fast but trust me on this – you will spend more time on it by trying to be fast than if you took your time on accuracy. Ok, so how do you avoid doing this? There are a couple of good methods.
- The first method is turn off other peoples tree “hints” completely in your tree. When you set up your Ancestry account go the drop down menu under your name and find “Site Preferences”. Click that and you will be taken to this menu:
If you want to completely turn off hints from other people’s trees, click that top check button to “off”.
2. If you want to see other’s people’s trees but you are going to be selective in how you add their information you can keep this box “on” but then you have to go through the hints and fact check every line of information. This is what is looks like when you have hints from other member trees.
Clicking that “Review” button will take you to those trees. The member with the highest amount of sources cited in their tree will always be the first member tree in the list. These 11 member trees may contain your needle in a haystack OR….may make you tear out your hair in 5 days. At any rate – gather this information from these member trees with MUCH CAUTION! Being hasty here can spin your tree into a mess quick and before you know it you have 3 of the same person married to themselves with 7 of the same husbands with 58 kids. Trust me on this….use CAUTION!!
3. Other member Ancestry trees will show up in your “hints” always as the first hint in the list – that is the formatting. I try never to look at other peoples trees unless I am trying to confirm a name or place or date or suspect a member tree may have documents that I cannot find or I am looking for a clue on a “brick wall” person.
4. I NEVER add information from another persons tree since I learned about what a mess it creates. I now use it as a reference point in some cases but I always use a document first to add that person or their information to my tree. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS.
TIP #2 – My Favorites: Seven Common Records
So you may be wondering where to start with your documentation and starting to build your trees. After many trials and errors and mistakes and failures and wasted time I have a devised my own method that I feel is rather fool proof. It’s not perfect, nothing in family tree research is perfect but I feel like it the most reliable for me.
- Birth & Death Records are where I start first. Sometimes you get conflicting information but generally pretty reliable if you can find them.
- Findagrave – Findagrave is a great resource – however Errors exist here. Be wary of issues like 3 or 4 spouses, half siblings and overall errors in spelling and dates. One of the biggest errors on findagrave is several names running in the same families. (*Here’s that can of worms again….)
- Census Records – these are great – but not always the most reliable. Use with caution! I am convinced many enumerators in the 1800’s were either 1) drunk or 2) hard of hearing or 3) mad at the government.
- *Just because it’s in the Federal or State Census doesn’t mean it’s correct and factor in 1) dementia of the elderly, 2) people with something to hide, 3) enumerators that were REALLY bad at subtraction. (dun, dun, dun…..can of worms again!)*For more great tips on U.S. Census Records see my previous post.
- MILLENNIUM FILES – Good resources mostly – again, not always 100% accurate. I go to the Millennium Files next after I look for vital records and census. A Millennium file is a file that was created by the Institute of Family Research to compile family data into a solid record. Now you may have some questions about that – assume it’s controlled by the LDS Church in their labyrinth of family tree libraries and documents. If you want to look it up – you can’t – so you can assume that is who put together the Millennium files. Some families have them and some do not. Again good for cross checking facts or finding some clues to lead you to other records and sources. BUT REMEMBER – even Millennium Files can contain errors.
- GEDCOM Files – Sometimes a great resource – depending on who created the file. A GEDCOM file is a family tree file that is compatible with many different software reading programs. If you get a GEDCOM from someone that has spent 30 years building their family tree then you can probably assume that GEDCOM file is a treasure trove of information. If you get one from someone that wanted to do their family tree in 30 days before their Ancestry subscription ran out then you might end up wishing you never saw it in the first place. Remember ANYONE can create a GEDCOM file and pass it on. Again….use with Caution!
- Military Records – Great resources!! – generally accurate! Our men have been involved in wars for the past 250+ years; Nearly every generation. The military has kept relatively good records over this span of time. Look deeply in military records for clues!! I’m talking about Indian Wars, War of 1812, Civil War, WWI, WWII, Spanish American War, Revolutionary War, many, many military records that can provide you with information on veterans and their spouses on military pensions.
- Marriage Records – I add marriage records at the bottom of this list because they sometimes create a big headache. Some marriage records are wonderful and some marriage records are just a mess. Remember in most cases on marriage records you will have 2 sources included in a record. The date the marriage license was issued and the date that the marriage license was returned/recorded with the proper office. *Don’t discount records that you think are duplicates here because in most cases they are both pointing to the same document. Are there common errors? Of Course!
TIP #3 – THOSE DARN “ALTERNATE FACTS!!”
Here is my biggest BIG, BIG TIP that will net you more search results. Let’s make it simple and do a little step by step overview of what I’m talking about. So, you’ve read my previous post about proper data entry on the Ancestry search engine and you’ve done that correctly and you’ve got some hints but there are still things missing like marriage records, census, military or vital records.
Think about how many spellings and forms of your name that you use today. Over the years how many times has your name changed? Your residence? In a person’s lifetime FACTS CHANGE ALL the TIME!!! Maiden Names, Nicknames, Married Names, etc.
Think of Ancestry’s search engine as a robot always working for you to see if what it has in its’ database will match up to your entries. Every day it does this, all the time. Constantly churning its’ search to “ping” you new hints but it can only give you a return on the facts that you have told it to search for. So if you have one name, one birth place, one birth date, one death date then Ancestry’s search robot is only looking for that one piece of information. Records are stored under ALL KINDS OF NAMES, DATES, & PLACES! By taking time to save ALL THOSE ALTERNATE FACTS you give the search robot so many more perimeters to look at!
How do you do this? Let’s do a step by step example.
When you get a hint on a document and you go to “Review” the document. When you do that you get a side by side pop up box showing on the right side what you already have in your tree and on the left side the items in the document that you are adding to your tree. Read this screen carefully! If the facts are different there will be a little gray bar next to it saying “Different”. (See below)
**THIS IS THE KEY STEP HERE everyone! Listen up! When you see that fact that is different, DO NOT IGNORE IT! Save it to your tree as an “Alternate Fact”.
A lot of people do not do this and miss out on all kinds of documents and hints!!
Now Ancestry’s search engine is not just searching for “Ruth Pabodie Bartlett” but also “Ruth Pabodie” (her maiden name). And we have it now searching for “Benjamin Bartlett” but also for “Benjamine Bartlett”. We’ve just doubled our search parameters!
SAVE EVERY “Alternate Fact” to your tree. This will allow your ancestry search to be more broad in scope as it searches for more places, names and dates. That elusive document may not be coming up because you simply aren’t telling the search engine to find it! Save EVERYTHING including MIS-SPELLINGS!! Common mis-spellings WILL produce documents!!
My Final Tip for this Post!
GO ON ANCESTRY AND USE ANCESTRY!!
The Ancestry search robot goes dormant when you do not log in and use the program. When you log in and visit a person it your tree it wakes up the Ancestry search robot to run a search of new documents and anything that has been added to it’s database. Open up a tree page and you will awaken the search engine to run.
Continue to tweak your data entry to conform to the search engine and save all of those “Alternate Facts” and before you know it you will have more documents to review than you dreamed possible!