I keep seeing advertisements for Ancestry.com on television - and now they all use the line:
"You don't even have to know what you're looking for...you just have to start looking."
One example is this Ancestry.com YouTube channel video:
This lady, Susan Littlewood, shows us how easy it is to do - add your parents, their parents, and then look for the shaky leaves! Ancestry.com does the work for you! It finds people in the family trees of other researchers, and all you have to do is click to add more people to your tree. Then, in a seeming miracle, you get those shaky leaves with historical records about the persons in your tree.
Oh, you have to pay for the family trees historical records found by the shaky leaves, don't you? A minor detail...but look at what you get for 42 cents a day (assuming a one-year US Deluxe subscription at the retail price of $155.40) or 82 cents per day (assuming a one-year World Deluxe subscription at the retail price of $299.40).
Let's try this out. I have a "test tree" on Ancestry.com for my second great-grandfather, Isaac Seaver (1823-1901). It has only his three wives in it, no children and no parents. Will I be able to add children, parents and grandparents, and all of their children using the Shaky Leaves? In this exercise, I will ignore my own online tree, and start with just one person, Isaac Seaver (1823-1901).
1) Here is the tree I started with:
There is a Shaky Leaf for Isaac!
2) I clicked on Isaac to see his profile, and then the "Hints" tab - and saw:
There are six hints - one for Ancestry.com trees and the other five for historical records. So far, so good.
3) I clicked on the "Ancestry Family Trees" link and saw:
There were three family trees that matched my Isaac Seaver. I selected the one that seemed to have the best data (a judgment call here). I could have selected all three of them with one check mark.
4) I clicked on the orange "Review the selected tree hints" button, and saw (three screens shown, there were more!):
On the screens above, I could choose to add the spouses, the parents and the children of Isaac Seaver from the selected family tree. I could also choose which data items for each person I wanted to add to my family tree. Easy peasy!
5) When I had checked everything I wanted to check, I clicked on the orange button on the bottom of the screen to add the selected persons and their selected data to my tree. The screen showed me:
It told me that I had added 7 people, modified 4 people, and added sources to 11 people. Sources? Really? Cool!
6) I clicked on the "Return to your tree" button (at the top left of the person profile) and saw (after selecting one of the sons, Frank Seaver):
I now have the Isaac Seaver family in the tree (three wives, five children, two parents). Let's try to add more ancestral families.
7) After about ten minutes, I managed to add several more families to my tree, using the process above:
I now have 27 people in my tree (only 14 of them ancestors of Frank Seaver) in no time at all!
At this point, I could continue adding persons to the tree, or start collecting, and attaching, the historical records for each person using the Shaky Leaf hints.
I can hear some of my readers now:
* "But this is a Massachusetts guy, where there are a lot of records and a lot of descendants." I agree.
* "Those other researchers have probably copied data from your tree." I agree.
* "You should have picked a person not in your tree." I agree, and will do that next.
* How do you know the data is correct?" I don't, not without useful source citations and using discernment to determine the accuracy and appropriateness of the data.
* "What do the sources look like?" I'm glad you asked. Here is one for Isaac's father:
The source citation is simply:
Title: Ancestry Family Trees.
Publisher: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com. Original data: Family Tree files submitted by Ancestry members.
Notes: This information comes from 1 or more individual Ancestry Family Tree files. This source citation points you to a current version of those files. Note: The owners of these tree files may have removed or changed information since this source citation was created.
Note that the source is not the Ancestry Member Tree of the person that it was taken from, or the source citation that the other person might have entered for the Facts for the person.
But it was really easy to do, and I didn't even have to know what I was looking for. The advertisement seems to be correct. A novice family historian can probably do this in one day of concerted effort using the 14-day free trial account. However, after the 14-day free trial, they can see their tree but not see the linked historical documents (unless they were real smart and downloaded them to their computer files).
Who should I investigate next? What person should I explore to see if Ancestry.com can find family trees and historical records for them? A famous person, say a President, or actor, or criminal? A random person from the 1930 census? I have some persons of interest in my tree that I can work with. If someone wants to suggest a person, I'm open to spending 15 minutes checking out the Ancestry.com ad claim (Note: I can only check USA records). Or you can do it too, if you have an Ancestry.com account. If you have a blog, you can blog about it too! I hope that you will.