Thursday, February 18, 2016

Does the Ancestry Member Tree Index "Prune" Trees?

The " > Ancestry Site Comments" Message Board has an interesting thread titled "Public Tree Search Results" started by Vera on 3 February, with 22 comments to date.  Vera, and others, stated that persons in their tree were missing from searches in the Ancestry Member Trees.  One of the commenters noted that they had called the Ancestry Help desk and were told that persons in Ancestry Member Trees were indexed only if the tree person had sources attached to the profiles.

Jim Mosher, who identified himself as on the Ancestry Product Management, responded in comment 16:

"The Member Services rep you spoke to was correct on several points:

"1. The index for our Public Member Trees has not been updated since mid-November.

"2. The current indexing rules do prune people from the index. These rules eliminate unusually large people (those with thousands of events or hundreds of immediate family members); those without any sources; and those with only a name. This makes the indexing more efficient (and it is still a big job to process the multiple billions of people in the trees system). THIS IS A CHANGE from what we used to do, so the statement of "only ever indexing those with records attached" is incorrect, but it DOES reflect the current system.

"3. The Member Service agent was also correct in that she cannot connect you to our development staff to "talk to a tech." There are escalation channels within Member Services, and they can (and do) bring up issues with our Product and Development teams, but they will not put you on the phone with the development staff.

"HOWEVER, we are investigating to see if something has failed with part of the tree index, and we are in-process of re-indexing the public member trees."

I found the comments about indexing the Member Trees surprising.  I knew that they didn't index it every week, but to go three months without indexing it for new trees, changes to trees, etc. seems too long.

But even more surprising was the current indexing rules, especially those profiles without any sources, or with only a name.  

I have many tree persons that don't have a source of any sort - either an attached record or a source entered via a GEDCOM file.

I wanted to see if what Jim Mosher said is true, so I used my 3rd great-grandfather Thomas J. Newton (1800?-????) as an example.   Here are the search results for him in the Ancestry Member Trees with an exact search on name and place:

There are 5 entries for the specific person, and 4 of them have one source, and one has two sources.  The only provided source in any tree is "Ancestry Member Tree."  When I "View" that source, they refer to one of the other trees.

What about my trees?  I have three trees with this person in it, and I don't have any source attached to Thomas J. Newton.  Here is the profile for Thomas J. Newton in one of my trees:

None of my trees with Thomas J. Newton have a source citation attached, and none show up in the search results for this person.  

What about someone in my tree with sources?  I will use Thomas J. Newton's daughter, Sophia Newton (1834-1923):

Here is my person profile for Sophia Newton:

On the profile above, I have 8 sources input from a GEDCOM file, and five sources from attached records.

I did a search for Sophia Newton for the exact name and place in Ancestry Member Trees:

There are 20 matches for my search criteria, and 11 of them are for my specific person.  All 11 have at least one source citation, and some of those are for "Ancestry Member Tree."

My three trees with Sophia have 17, 15 and 13 sources, respectively, and are listed in the search results.  

My conclusions from this little study are:

*  Ancestry Member Tree search results seem to require a source to be listed.

*  Those sources can be "Ancestry Member Tree."

*  A person's own tree's with sources will show up in the search results.

Here are my thoughts on the indexing criteria for Ancestry Member Trees:

*  Profiles for every person in all trees should be indexed, no matter how many sources there are.  While many tree profiles may not have a source, they may provide useful clues and contact opportunities to possible relatives and other searchers.

*  The list of matches should be ordered according to how many sources are provided for the person of interest.  That way, the (presumably) "best" tree information appears at the top of the list.  

*  A source listing an "Ancestry Member Tree" is fairly useless if there is no attached record on the profile.  Why are they even considered?

* should provide a summary of their indexing rules, and the date of the last index on a regular basis.

Thank you to reader Judy for pointing out the message board thread and the indexing rules.


Copyright (c) 2016, Randall J. Seaver

Please comment on this post on the website by clicking the URL above and then the "Comments" link at the bottom of each post.  Share it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest using the icons below.  Or contact me by email at


Matthew and Elyse said...

I've noticed the ranking of results by number of sources - but yes, dead-end "Ancestry Member Tree" sources are no help!

Cousin Russ said...


Interesting dialog. Reading your notes at the end, I had to have a "hmmm" moment. As our friend, The Legal Genealogist" would say "it depends".

I am of two minds on this topic. I agree that there are hints in those undocumented trees that may lead us to what we want to know. But, at the Same time, there are times when I DO want to see a Documented Tree.

Right now, I do not include Ancestry Member Trees in my Shaky Leaf Hints results.

I would like to have the OPTION to Turn On the Public Member Tree Hints, BUT Only for those Documented Trees. OR to include those undocumented trees. So, three options would work for me.


Cousin Russ said...


I have a second comment on this topic about the Last Indexing back in November.

I was talking to some one from the Ancestry Member Tree staff, may be the same person that was mentioned, with an Indexing issue on an Ancestry Member Tree that is Public AND Sourced that is not showing up in Search Results.

He was doing to look into my issue, but haven't heard back from him yet. I would have thought that we might have mentioned that to me during our conversation.

Thank you,


The Down East Genealogist said...

I find this disturbing. I'd be interested to know just when they changed their indexing rules; when I initially posted my tree in late 2014 -- which has no sources attached -- I frequently saw profiles from my own tree in search results. I hadn't thought about it until I read this post, but now I realize it's been quite a while since I got any hits on my own tree.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that unsourced profiles should be indexed. I didn't add sources to my online tree because I don't use Family Tree Maker (which presumably would have been an easy sync), and I have no idea how my templated Legacy sources would transfer to an Ancestry tree (but probably not very well). I figured I could provide source information to anyone who was interested enough to contact me and ask. But now it appears they will never even see my tree. Guess I'm going to have to rethink my strategy. As it stands now, the only thing my online tree is good for is DNA matches.

In my opinion, listing an Ancestry Member Tree as a "source" is completely worthless and should not even be an option, let alone serve as the basis for deciding to index the profile. I'm not interested in how many other trees give the same unsupported "fact", citing each other in an infinite loop. (I'd give more credence to a citation to personal knowledge or family lore, than to another member tree.)

To maximize the utility of the member trees, Ancestry should index all profiles, including unsourced ones, but the count of sources in the search results should include only legitimate sources, not other member trees. I want to be able to look at the search results and know that a profile with six sources has real sources, and isn't just citing six other member trees. But I also want to see the unsourced profiles, which have provided useful clues in the past. And I like your suggestion that results be ordered by number of (legitimate) sources.


Cousin Russ said...


You may not put a Citation on information you get from an Ancestry Member Tree, but I do. Reason: so that I know where I got the information from. I also, immediately make a note in my Research LOG AND on my ToDo List to follow up on that information.

Who know, I may find a document for my self, and may be willing to share that information with the person who gave me that hint, when I found that tree. The Citation will give me that information, if I do my citation correctly.


Geolover said...

The Ancestry representative did not touch on how the new, restrictive indexing protocol applies to AncestryDNA's scheme of showing "circles" of however distantly supposedly-related persons. Ancestry creates these "circles" mostly from trees. Are persons with no source attached, from trees, therefore being excluded from the purported matching in "circles"? Since Ancestry's DNA-matching routine lacks much of any other tool for seeing matches, this could be a thorny issue.

The Down East Genealogist said...


I think I wasn't entirely clear about how I use and cite information from Ancestry Member Trees. When I find a clue in such a tree, I will cite that tree as my source, for my own use, in my genealogy software. But I would not publish that citation in my online tree, because I regard the information only as a clue to be followed up. That's another reason why my online tree is unsourced -- so that such "working citations" don't end up online to be cited by others in turn as a "source."

Unfortunately, the same term "source" is used for two different concepts: in the loose sense of the "source" of a piece of tentative information that I need to follow up on (e.g., this undocumented Doe family tree says John Doe is the father of George Doe), as opposed to a source document (e.g., a birth certificate) that I can formally cite to say "This document is evidence that John Doe is the father of George Doe." Ancestry Member Trees, and Ancestry's indexing of them, do not distinguish between these two types of sources. But a profile that lists ten "sources" that are all references to other Member Trees is, in my opinion, effectively an "unsourced" profile.


Cousin Russ said...


I did a blog post on this topic a while ago

For what ever that's worth.


Bonnie said...

I have to agree with Ancestry's approach. "Genealogy without sources is Mythology" is a saying I have to agree with. Maybe when a person sets up a tree without sources it could be set up as an "unsourced" tree and searched separately as an option. I'd like to see them add a "tree type" for other purposes too, like mirror trees used by adoptees and "DNA" trees.

Linda Schreiber said...

Bonnie, I fully agree with the concept that "Genealogy without source is mythology". But there are a great many people, including me, who have sources, and analyses, more on some people than on others, but do not upload them all to ancestry. Not all are focused entirely on the tree at Ancestry, but mostly work elsewhere. And others want to be *contacted* by people who want the real sources and research rather than just putting it all out there to be 'borrowed'.
The fact that the pseudo-sources of "copying tree to tree = source" are searchable while the trees clearly labelled as "Please contact me for source information" are excluded from search results.....
That's a problem, and is actually a serious disservice to subscribers.

Bob Coret said...

I think we all agree that sources add to the quality of a tree. So it's wise to add this as a signal when you index trees, but by not indexing people without sources Ancestry may tackle their indexing problem, but they are not proving their members a service. You should be indexing everything and present the user with a result list where the user can determine the quality of the entries! And maybe add a search option "Only show sourced entries" (which is off by default).

Barb said...

I don't like the idea of unsourced names being totally thrown out of the index/search results. I have found many bits of gold in those names & dates without sources. I'd rather see them, analyze them and decide what my next action will be. Not only could they be the stripped tree of a seasoned researcher, but a close family member who had the inside scoop and is unaware of sourcing protocols.

M. Diane Rogers said...

I have many sources for my info - but I'm hoping to get people to contact me so my tree is pretty bare and not too big. Maybe I shouldn't bother with the Ancestry tree. Or I suppose I could make sure that
key people in the tree have a source so they get indexed. Before anyone asks, not sure how I'd determine those key people, but I am almost certain I won't be using Ancestry trees as sources for those entries. Trees often provide good clues; I like that part!

Becky said...

Here is an example of why leaving unsourced profiles un-indexed is a terrible idea:
One of my brick walls for years had been the name and identity of my paternal great grandmother. I had a surname with initials and general geographic location and that was it. Searching with this information brought up an individual listed in a few trees, and no sources were attached to this individual...just that she was the daughter of a couple who had numerous other children, all of whom were sourced. I contacted one of the people whose tree she was listed in, and after correspondence she explained that while she had no sources or photos of this woman, she had gotten her information from the "family genealogist". This woman is married to one of the descendants of one of the siblings and I asked if he would donate dna for me. By my reckoning, if this woman was truly my long lost great grandmother, the dna test for her sibling's descendant would confirm that we were 3rd cousins, sharing 2xgrGrandparents. Indeed the dna suggested a 2nd cousin relationship (we are actually 3rd) and subsequent testing of other descendants from this family including 1/2 siblings all confirmed my relationship. In this way I found the identity of my great grandmother.... from an unsourced profile entry on an Ancestry tree that today does not show up in a Search (I tried). Isn't genealogy about finding our lost ancestors? Well the truly lost are never going to show up under Ancestry's new Search parameters. This is a terrible move on Ancestry's part.

judy said...

The public tree index looks to have been updated BUT i still have people not showing with in it