AMATEUR GENEALOGISTS BECOMING DISGRUNTLED WITH ANCESTRY.COM

THE GENEALOGY RESEARCH PROBLEM

We have received many calls from amateur genealogists who are disgruntled with ancestry.com causing them, unfortunately, to consider cancelling their subscriptions.  Their frustration revolves around not finding information easily, continually coming up with the same uneventful results, and therefore making no progress.  This is a very unfortunate situation since ancestry.com is a terrific resource for genealogy research records, but their advertising campaign has resulted in this self-inflicted wound.

THE REASONS – FOR THE GENEALOGY RESEARCH PROBLEM

There are a number of reasons for this that involves the combination of unrealistic expectations and naïveté on the part of the amateur genealogists and the inference from ancestry.com that it is easy to research your ancestry.  There is an old saying…”if it sounds like it is too good to be true, then it is”, meaning, you should not take their advertising campaign literally.  The reasons for the conflict:

Ancestry.com:

  • Their advertising campaign states that you don’t need to know what you are looking for before you start looking, leading some to believe it is easy and the results will fall into your lap.
  • Their advertising has stated you can connect other family trees to your tree if a green leaf appears in your family tree, leading some to believe this is how you do genealogy research.

Amateur Genealogists:

  • They assume it is going to be easy and don’t know how to properly search for genealogy records.
  • They are not experienced enough to know how to use ancestry.com’s records and their search engine.
  • They don’t understand that while ancestry.com has many records, they don’t have ALL of the records.
  • They don’t know how to research records in other repositories or that they even exist.

UNDERSTANDING THE MOTIVATIONS OF BOTH SIDES – IN THE GENEALOGY RESEARCH PROBLEM

An instrumental part of professional genealogy research is to evaluate the motivation of the informants (source of the information) to determine the credibility of the information provided.  In this case we have two informants, the amateur genealogist and ancestry.com.  One has to look at the motivations of both sides.

  • Amateurs genealogists want easy internet access to records for instant gratification, and if they don’t get it they get frustrated.
  • Ancestry.com understands this and promotes their website to meet this demand to gain subscribers to their website.

This unfortunately creates a vicious cycle of the simple sell for easy results, that leads to frustration through a lack of understanding and naiveté, and a lost customer.  In the end unfortunately, this does nothing to promote the accredited way of doing genealogy research which if done properly would probably create a lifetime customer.

This approach is exasperated by the TV program, “Who Do You Think You Are?”  While this program has high entertainment value, their producers provide an unrealistic portrayal of easy genealogy research.  They describe a process that promotes:

  • The viewing of original genealogy records.
  • A requirement for long distant travel to discover documents on site.
  • Information instantaneously appearing with no relevance to the actual process and number of hours of research time it takes to discover the records which just miraculously appear on their program.
  • The appearance of celebrities doing it on their own when in reality there are hundreds of hours of genealogy research put into each of these programs by profession genealogists.

This portrayal does an injustice to professional genealogists and the genealogy research process as a whole, and sets up unrealistic expectations on the part of amateur genealogists.  This again only creates a myth that it is easy which then results in frustration on the part of amateur genealogists when they discover it is not.

From personal experience, a relative in my family placed what he believes to be the family tree of our paternal line on ancestry.com.  The information he provided in this family tree has an inaccurate generation which therefore renders the remainder of the family tree incorrect.  This tree is not based on sound genealogy research methodology, but unfortunately, well over 400 other family trees have linked to this same incorrect tree on ancestry.com.  Family trees on ancestry.com should be viewed at best as a clue and then researched to be proven or disproven as a fit with your family tree.

THE REMEDY – FOR THE GENEALOGY RESEARCH PROBLEM

Amateur genealogists:

Be savvy and expect that it is going to take more effort to discover your ancestors and family history.  Do not believe that you can simply click on a green leaf and connect with another family that belongs to your family tree.

Learn how to effectively and accurately research genealogy records.

  • Determine the questions you need answered.
  • Learn about the types of records that are available in different geographic regions.
  • Learn what types of information each record can provide.
  • Develop a hypothesis and research plan involving these records.
  • Use ancestry.com as well as other databases and repositories as resources, and use sound genealogy research methodologies to determine the correct answers to your genealogy research questions.

Learn about the genealogy research process.   Understand that “The Genealogical Proof Standard” developed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) http://www.bcgcertification.org/ is accepted as sound genealogical research methodology and is the basis for becoming a certified genealogist.  That is:

  • Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question.
  • Collect and include in the compilation a complete and accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information collected.
  • Analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence.
  • Resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other or are contrary to a proposed (hypothetical) solution to the question.
  • Arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

Gain genealogy research knowledge, and attend free lectures or seek knowledge at:

  • Local genealogy societies.
  • Local Family History Libraries through the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS).
  • Local genealogy libraries.
  • Local National Archives and Records Administrations (NARA) centers.
  • Conferences by genealogy societies and associations.
  • The Genealogical Standards Manual by The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG).

Understand that researching your genealogy properly will result in placing individuals in your family tree that truly belong there, which will accurately describe your family history to your descendants for generations to come.

Ancestry.com:

Bring added credibility to the genealogy research community in a way that will create lifetime members in the genealogy professional by:

  • Promoting your terrific website as a resource for genealogy records to be used during the course of proper genealogy research practices.
  • Promoting your family trees only as clues or possibilities, and not as a place where you simply connect other family trees to yours.
  • Educating the amateur genealogists on proper genealogy research methodology.

FEEDBACK

  • Have you experienced these frustrations?
  • Has this blog helped motivate you to learn more about proper genealogy research techniques?
  • What do you think of this advice?

 

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10 Responses to AMATEUR GENEALOGISTS BECOMING DISGRUNTLED WITH ANCESTRY.COM

  1. Bill Moser says:

    ■Have you experienced these frustrations? I don’t use Ancestry.com, though I once used Family Tree Maker, and I encountered some of the same problems.

    ■Has this blog helped motivate you to learn more about proper genealogy research techniques? Yes. I became interested in genealogy when I was in 6th grade. I’m 60 now, and continue to enjoy it. I am fortunate that a distant cousin is a genealogist, and compiled a 300-page family history which has been a tremendous help. I am always interested in learning more about genealogy.

    ■What do you think of this advice? I like that you present genealogical research as a form of the scientific method.

    • Melick Genealogists says:

      Ancestry.com promotes their website as being a source for genealogical research where “you don’t even need to know what you are looking for” for the purpose of soliciting people to purchase a subscription. This is contrary to standard genealogy research practices that first prescribe preparing a research plan that is specific to the goals you are attempting to achieve in your research. You most certainly want to know what you are looking for when researching. Ancestry.com’s marketing campaign has led to numerous subscribers contacting us, frustrated with their lack of success on ancestry.com. Ancestry.com should drop the shameless short-sighted marketing campaign and teach people the methodology for researching genealogy. For the amateur genealogist, not knowing what you are looking for while “researching” on ancestry.com only leads to frustrated subscribers, and ultimately to subscribers that shortly become non-subscribers.

  2. Otto Clemson says:

    My experience is the exact opposite of what is described. I joined Ancestry.com with the understanding that like any research project, I was going to get out only what I put in for effort. I did not expect someone to hand me my family genealogy. I understood that this was probably going to be a long term project and that much research would be required.

    Ancestry.com, as with many other genealogy sites gives me the tools to research many sources in one place.

    I think the advertising does exactly what advertising should do – stimulate interest. It is up to the customer to determine whether it is something they want to pursue. As with anything your expectations will change depending on what is available from any site.

    In one of the ancestry.com ads the woman states that she feels like a detective and that she found out one of her ancestors was a detective (or something along those lines). This is not misleading. I have watched enough CSI to know that no detective worth his salt walks into a crime scene and expects to be able to say immediately that the Butler did it with the Candlestick in the Library. I think most new users to ancestry.com know that they will have to do some work for the reward.

  3. Kim W. says:

    I’m an amateur geneologist who’s been using Ancestry.com, and there’s another problem I’ve run into – their records aren’t always good at making sure they’re showing researchers the RIGHT records. I got seduced by how “easy” it was to find some records for my family members at first – but then I noticed that occasionally some of the details on their records didn’t match information I already knew. I was lucky to have an extensive geneological report for one of my grandfathers’ families, so I was able to confirm that “wait, this John M was born in Minnesota, but MY John M was born in Vermont. Who knows why they’re showing me that?” If I hadn’t had that record, I wouldn’t have thought to be suspicious, and would have grafted a whole incorrect Minnesota branch onto my family tree.

  4. B. W. Wynne says:

    Yes, am addicted and found ancestry.com a wonderful TOOL, along with microfilm, books, other sites, etc. In my later years have had a compulsive feeling about searching out my family. Have spent hours in libraries and online. Recently found a lot of information on my husband’s line but have been frustrated that I cannot verify or add to because ancestry.com has not allowed me online for over four days. Why? Have paid my dues in money, time and passion. Want this site to be there for me!

  5. Ann Malecki Cook says:

    I have found good hints on ancestry.com but my mom was a rigorous researcher and I learned to respect primary sources and use traditions as clues to pursue primary resources. Most of my experience, and my husband’s experience have been good because we did have rational standards. Most of the family trees I have reviewed have persistent typo errors, many inevitably lead to some noble or royal line, lots of wishful thinking and a slight chance of a trip to document primary sources. Clues, well considered, can lead to a world of education in history and an greater understanding of the world or ancestors did live. Not fables of a glorious noble past. The fact that I am here today is a noble testament to or ancestors endurance and or sheer good luck to have survived long enough to pass on their genes, history,and hopes to my generation.

  6. Wanda T. says:

    I’ve been using Ancestry.com since July 2013. It is easy to get caught up in just adding to my family tree from other’s family trees. I have felt all along that there is something wrong with this method, and plan to delete several generations from my family trees that I’m not even certain about. I am really interested in learning about the correct process, though. I’ll take your suggestions and look into the various geneological resourses you mentioned. Thank you for this article. By the way, is Ancestry.com’s DNA testing accurate?

  7. Michael Rios says:

    My thoughts, I have to agree with Otto ” I was going to get out only what I put in for effort”, this is like classes that we took at school you only got good grades by the amount of work and dedication you put into it. Ancestry is an aid to help bring digital documents into our research which is a great benefit to all.
    I personally, with the aid of Ancestry and other tools found two brothers (half-brothers), two second cousins, one maternal first cousin. This is detective work for when you find a clue you have to determine if that is the correct person or family, does the geographical area make sense, was there a name change in the surname when you go back further into the past. Ancestry is a great tool but I have found you have to use others as well like Familysearch.org along with Ancestory which brings you more avenues to unlock the past. Certain surnames can be found in Google Ebooks and most are free-thank you. Have a plan of action, collect Census records in your shoebox study them then ask living members if the names ring a bell. If you’re fortunate to have living relatives they can be a great asset for going back into the past The pitfall is that paper trails do get cold, the fires, floods that destroyed several thousand documents. The Wars in Mexico, the Civil War of 1812 documents have been stolen and or destroyed and lost forever.

  8. philip turner says:

    Ancestry.com is a monoploy on genealogical software. For beginners, it can be a fast approach to look up records. However, most records, particularly federal records are public and free. I would not waste the cost of subscription for this software.

  9. Allison says:

    I am an African American Woman and have been a member of Ancestry.com since 2008. However I only started researching my family’s history in earnest in 2013. Ancestry.com opened for me a world of discovery, learning, and connection that I hoped for but never really expected. Through Ancestry.com, I was able to find the real name of my paternal second Great Grandfather, the real birth place of my paternal 3rd Great Grandmother and show my Mom her Grandmother’s headstone among other wonderful discoveries. But to answer your questions more directly, I would say that yes, I have been frustrated with getting the same uneventful result but I do not think it is the fault of Ancestry.com. I figured it was due to a number of reasons including the way information for African Americans was recorded by census takers at the time, geographic shifts in where/how districts and towns are drawn, and as Micheal mentioned the loss / destruction of historical information. This experience led me not to blame Ancestry.com, but to go back and review the information that I had and cross check other sources.

    This blog was helpful, yes. I am glad that you gave credit to Ancestry.com where it is due. I want to mention however, that Ancestry.com has a plethora of tools and information to help people learn about genealogy and conduct a proper search. I have found either training videos or links to sources like those you mention above on Ancestry.

    Finally, I think your advice to amateur genealogists or info seekers is spot on – be realistic and prepared to do your homework lol! As far as your advice to Ancestry.com, I think they do points 1 and 3. I’ll throw you a bone with point 2 – fine, they can clarify about family trees : )
    For those who complain about cost, I have yet to find a website that provides as much content, flexibility, ease of use and information anywhere. I particularly love the fact that you can upload all forms of documents and media, host top quality trainings on genealogy and help you develop, organize and store your professional research with templates, shoeboxes, and quality instruction. I have paid the full $300 per year for my Ancestry membership and so far, it is the best $300 that I have ever spent!

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