Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Ancestry.com and me

Here's a Family Tree Maker page from my Myers lineage.

My annual and not-inexpensive subscription to Ancestry.com expires every September and each year I think about not renewing it. Then, as happened over the weekend, the family history bug bites --- and it becomes clear I'd rather not live without it. Besides, I use Ancestry for a lot for research projects unrelated to family.

But much of what's available at Ancestry is increasingly available elsewhere these days in smaller, but less costly and often free, bites. Resources in the LDS-based FamilySearch program, including census records, continue to grow and access is free. Many of the digitalized books that can be accessed via Ancestry also are available, free again, at Google's "Books." And my minimal monthly cost to access "Newspaper Archive" resources pays a better return than Ancestry does.

Ancestry's big advantage is that it pulls everything it has together into one vast searchable database, and that can be convenient --- or incredibly confusing. So I suppose I'll stick with Ancestry for another year. Wikipedia tells me that Ancestry now offers access to 11 billion records, 40 million family trees and 2 million paying subscribers, including me.


Then there's the fact that I've been using the "Family Tree Maker" genealogy bookkeeping system for about as long as it's been around and still prefer it. Some years ago, Ancestry.com bought Family Tree Maker and now the two are thoroughly integrated.

Family Tree Maker lives on my computer and is relatively easy to deal with. It is synchronized, however, with my Ancestry.com database, which is more complex and rather clumsy to deal with in some instances. Make a change to one database and the other is automatically updated --- a process that sometimes goes awry and brings everything to a screeching halt.

Here's how that Family Tree Maker lineage (above) appears online at Ancestry.

Still, it's handy --- and because of the synch, you can work either on your own home computer-based program, or online. That's handy since the online program does a variety of things that the home-based program can't.

Ancestry markets itself aggressively nowadays, which means both components are in a constant state of "updating." Family Tree Maker now will do essentially everything for you other than cook lunch, including "write" your family history. The online version at Ancestry will do similar things --- but for an additional cost.

This constant updating can be mildly aggravating. I received a survey questionnaire a few weeks ago suggesting that Ancestry was thinking of eliminating its "old search" engine, which I prefer to use because of its simplicity. But the "new" search engine is designed for new and inexperienced subscribers, so it's now the favored one. 


My guess is that a majority of new Ancestry.com subscribers are more interested in creating a family tree in the easiest possible way rather than doing original research. It's possible to do this in most instances by simply typing your name and perhaps those of your parents and grandparents into appropriate boxes, then "merging" online lineages that others have developed into your own. 

The big pitfall here is that accessible lineages contain mountains of misinformation now immortalized in online databases and mindless merging aggravates the situation.

I was looking yesterday, for example, at a lineage that included lines of descent from my great-great-great-grandfather, Daniel S. Dick via his two wives. It seemed to be comprehensive and informative (I was looking for hints that might aid my research), then it occurred to me that all of the data attached to the names of two half-brothers of my great-great-grandmother, Harriet (Dick) Myers, belonged to men with the same names but entirely unrelated. That's called genealogy by wishful thinking and can seriously mislead those new to the game and unfamiliar with family details.

Cited sources sometimes are good ways to judge the accuracy of online lineages. Citing lineages you've found online as the sources of your information is not reassuring.

Never trust a lineage that links you to "royalty." Ninety-nine percent of these lineages involve wishful thinking.

And never under any circumstances trust a lineage that begins with Adam and Eve. This is not a matter of faith --- you can believe that Adam and Eve were historical personages who lived in a garden and that scriptural lineages are accurate.

What cannot be done in any way shape or form, however, is to document connections between people alive today and those biblical lineages. It just cannot, I repeat, cannot be done.

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