01 March 2010

Getting Started on Ancestry.com: A Response

Ancestry.com posted a new video on YouTube, titled "Getting Started on Ancestry.com." I found this video to be a very interesting in regards to how ancestry is advising folks to start searching their website.

The video advises a three step process for starting genealogy research at ancestry.com
  1. "Enter what you know" into a family tree
  2. "Click on leaf hints" to see what ancestry has discovered
  3. "Review the records you find"
So, Ancestry's instructions are really all about using their family trees to facilitate research. This is in no way a bad research strategy, but neither is it a complete research strategy. I believe this video represents an idealistic and simplistic version of genealogy research on Ancestry.com.

I do recognize that this is a "getting started" and very basic research strategy for novice researchers. However, I believe this presents an entirely too simplistic view of genealogy research. It makes it seem as if no hard work is needed to create a family tree. Although the video points out the "search records" feature in the family tree, the video implies that most of the research will be done automatically by Ancestry's family trees. The video never shows a screenshot of the actual search form - old or new. Perhaps that's intentional? A newbie viewing the new search form might be overwhelmed. Such a screenshot might completely negate the simplistic tone of the video.

I also find it interesting that Ancestry.com is pushing their family tree feature so much, while self professed longtime, "real" users thoroughly dislike and disparage these same trees. I've seen countless comments on Ancestry.com's blog and message boards in which such researchers complain that the family trees are nothing but trash. Personally, I disagree with this blanket statement, though I believe it does have merit. There are a great many trees on Ancestry that are nothing but copy/paste clones that contain impossible lineages. Many novice researchers may not be aware of this, nor of good research practices. I worry that these new researchers will accept other family trees at face value, viewing all trees as "true."

So, although I know that this video is a very simplistic advice for getting started on Ancestry.com, I feel that it presents an overly simplified view of research on the site. This view may lead to the spread of misinformation and bad research habits. I hope that Ancestry.com follows up this video with more indepth information on how to use their site. Some ideas include, adding a link at the end of the video to their many free webinars, creating a short video that sums up some basic search techniques, a video about documenting sources or about cross-referencing difference sources. There's a lot that Ancestry.com could do to follow up this video, but I hope that whatever they come up with isn't as simplistic as this video.


Unknown said...

I saw a commercial similar to the video you are talking about. It may have been the same one. I agree that it does make it look pretty simple. Apparently, all you have to do is log on, put in a name, and click on a little leaf to get a completed family tree. Although I haven't used Ancestry.com as much as you have, I know that's not really the case.

Watching you do research for many years, I know that it is not that simple and you won't find all of the information you want in one spot. And, you have a valid point that the information on a tree that you find may not be completely correct. They don't mention any of their other resources.

I think it is a really good commercial to get people interested. Especially for those who are looking for a little information about their relatives and not a full time hobby. However, for those that don't do a little more research about the site before signing up, they may be disappointed. What if no one has done any work on their family tree, or their family is hard to find?

However, their commercial does work. After seeing it, Ryan said he wanted to try it, and he doesn't really have any interest in genealogy.

JamaGenie said...

I've been an Ancestry subscriber for close to 15 years, so I've seen many changes. The last overhaul has probably upset me the most, because it was supposed to make searching easier, but I find it much harder than before. Despite the hundreds of $$ they get from each subscriber each year, I suspect it's to force people to buy the book by George (Morgan?) on how to find things there.

As for the family trees, I rarely use them, and only as a reference to avenues I might not have followed yet. Otherwise, they're as useless as "User Submitter" files on familysearch.org.

But the biggest problem is a newbie will take the information from a tree, not realizing it might not be true, and then re-publish it elsewhere as carved in stone.

As we veterans of this addiction know, family history research is NOT easy, and Ancestry should not pretend that it is. On the other hand, Ancestry is a *business*, and commercials inferring that genealogy IS as easy as becoming a subscriber is what they do to *stay* in business.

Hopefully, instead of a YouTube video, newbies will watch programs like PBS's "Faces of America" and realize how much work is involved in tracing one's ancestors *accurately*.

Anonymous said...

Well, well. I am a subscriber to the share what you have and treat what you get with caution. I do the whole family of my direct ancestors and have received tremendous insight from those who I stumble upon who have information for three generations back. I have identified pictures for them and I have received pictures I have never seen of my family. One distant cousin visited me with a three ring notebook loaded with letters from my Grandmother. What a treat! So, I am saying that ancestry.com has a special place for those just starting genealogy and their efforts should not be minimized by "professional" genealogists who dislike seeing mistakes. There will always be mistakes, even some committed by "professionals" so let's be a little tolerant, we might learn something by accident.


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