Wednesday, March 25, 2020

On the Importance of Keeping a Well-Tended, Public Ancestry.com Tree

I imagined that being isolated at home during this pandemic would allow more time for genealogy. It turns out I've found plenty to keep me occupied, which partially explains why I haven't blogged in a while. Actually, there is one activity that has devoured what genealogical time I have had: working on my Ancestry.com tree. Recent advancements in my research that were made possible by this tree have reinforced its importance for me. Hence, I've kinda "binged" on it a bit lately. Has this taken time away from blogging? I'm afraid it has. If you look forward to my blog posts, I hope you'll forgive me for striking while this particular iron has been hot. But at least the preoccupation has given me occasion to share some thoughts on what I feel is an extremely important tool.

Why should you keep a well-stocked Ancestry tree? Why should you make it public? For multiple reasons. First, Ancestry has a massive number of subscribers. This means that your work is going to get more exposure there than possibly anywhere else. It also means that you have an increased chance of encountering user-contributed records and artifacts there (though places like the FamilySearch Family Tree may eventually gain ground). I myself post Non-Pajama Contributions to my public Ancestry tree very frequently. Having this tree be public allows me to see who is attaching my contributions to their own trees. This in turn allows me to connect with users who may be able to help me in my research efforts, and whose research I may be able to help advance.

Second, Ancestry has the largest DNA tester pool of any large genealogical service, and their ThruLines feature depends greatly upon people maintaining accurate public, or private-but-searchable, trees. The more that users add and source-support not only direct ancestor lines on their trees, but also cousin lines, the more that other DNA users are able to make sense of their matches, connect with you if you match them, and further everyone's research. Carolynn ni Lochlainn calls this process of adding to cousins "shrubbing." I like that term. The practice is one of the most important uses of an Ancestry public tree, and one of the main reasons I keep tending mine.

Third, there's no getting around it: Ancestry has a massive lead on the number and kinds of records they can offer to subscribers. I've downloaded countless vital certificates, parish records, and other items there that have more than made up in value for the site's subscription fee. And it is EASY to attach these records to one's tree there. This allows for very efficient workflow. Also, it may be true that more of everything is available at Ancestry for you than it is anywhere else. You'll have to attach (and source!!) outside records to fully flesh out your relatives' profiles, but it's very convenient to work through the hints (CAREFULLY!!) and relatively quickly account for the census and other obvious stuff in relatively short order (in most cases). Even if you don't have a tree on Ancestry, the sheer size and continued growth of their records database make it practically mandatory that any serious genealogist check back there often.

Fourth, the mechanics on Ancestry's personal tree program are extremely intuitive and effective. With more features and tools being added all the time (see the latest here), it's quite the easiest way to showcase your work online in a setting controlled by you. And it's free! You must have a subscription to Ancestry to attach most of their database's records to your tree, but you don't need a subscription to keep the tree itself and attach outside records and photos. Also, paying subscribers can access your ongoing work even if you are not currently subscribing to Ancestry. This all makes it easy to keep working on your tree there while you may have lapses in your subscription.

Fifth, keeping a public tree on Ancestry is just another hedge against your work being lost to history. If your eye is on eternity, maintaining a presence on the site of the world's largest genealogy service should be within the line of vision. You never know who might use your work, and who might help preserve the memories of the people you research. Ancestry is a big place with lots of traffic, so eventually there's bound to be some of this going on. It's just another example of how sharing freely with others pays big dividends.

I'll say it again: keeping a public Ancestry.com tree is the best way I know of to showcase your work publicly. It's true that you need a subscription (or access to a library subscription) to access other members' trees in most cases. But even granting this, your tree's exposure there can be considerable.

I offer the above thoughts assuming one big thing: you're meticulous. If you're not meticulous (if you are slapdash or willy-nilly with hints, and you don't source outside records carefully), your work is next to worthless. Don't add to the problem of bad online trees. Instead, take your work seriously, pay close attention to detail, and be the change we all want to see with online genealogy. Because a well-researched, public Ancestry tree is a boon to all. It might not be your "main" tree, but it definitely should be one of your trees.

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