I’m not sure why I first downloaded We’re Related, but it felt rather silly. Almost immediately the app is telling me I’m related to Madonna, Johnny Depp, and Bill Clinton which seemed like a gimmick. And, let’s be honest, it comes off more as a marketing tool than genealogy tool.
But to discount this app is to be missing out on some decent family history research opportunities as well as missing what could be the dawn of a great new tool in genealogy!
If this technology is ever leveraged against some of my brick walls instead a gimmick like linking me to Blake Shelton, Ancestry might really be on to something.
The feature that I’ve found most useful, and that I wish was more available in Ancestry.com, is the projection of relationships beyond what you’ve identified in your tree. The tool collects data from other sources and makes an educated guess about your direct ancestors and presents them as a line that happens to match the line of a celebrity. This conjecture is like a “shaky leaf” hints taken to the next step. Instead of using the data you’ve entered that matches either what another Ancestry member has entered, or a fact match that shares the same information as you’ve entered into your tree, We’re Related will build out your tree using your information as a starting point, and try and build a map that uses the best available data to connect your line to another. The potential power of a tool like this, when properly executed, is what excites me…much more so than potentially sharing ancestors with DJ Spider One.
Using my match with John McCain as an example, let me show you what I mean…
This is the first match I decided to trace and see if I could prove out the connection, and given that I have several DNA lines that are proved that are 7th Cousins or above, it seemed like I’d have a good chance of mapping it out.
As I expected, I’m several generations older than Sen. McCain so I had more ancestors to prove. Clicking the link showed that James Morgan was on my Father’s, Mother’s, Father’s line which is well documented. I wasn’t aware of the Morgan name previous to this, but when I started tracing back I quickly recognized my 5xGGM Mary Goodwin.
From here I just followed the shaking leaf hints back to James Morgan. My main tree is a Working/Uncertified tree so I’m pretty liberal on the sources I accept to establish facts in the tree. I stay away from Ancestry member trees, but I’m comfortable using secondary or greater sources like those in the Lucius Barnes Barbour Collection (a collection of records as transcribed by Lucius Barnes Barbour in the mid-1800’s) and the Family Data Collection (genealogical data gathered for scientific study that was not properly documented, and set to be destroyed, before it was saved and entered into an electronic database) despite the risk that the data isn’t very accurate. It’s not unusual for there to be transposition of dates, or years like 1703/4 trimmed to 1703, but by and large the overall information is accurate, if not enough to be considered genealogical “proof”.
I was able to establish the link from Mary Goodwin to James Mason just following “shaky leaf” hints, and this demonstrates how this could be a powerful genealogical technology. Unlike the shaky leaf hints, which are based on the top 10% of most used sources, and are closely tied to information you’ve already entered on a relative, We’re Related is making suppositions based (apparently) on an algorithm that can draw the line between what you know, and what it guesses is true, to build a potential line for you.
In this case, the system’s supposition was accurate, and it helped me build a link that I hadn’t built. I have other examples, which I’ll write about later, where those suppositions weren’t accurate. But if this technology is ever leveraged against some of my brick walls instead a gimmick like linking me to Blake Shelton, Ancestry might really be on to something.
Until then, We’re Related is more than just a gimmick, and if you get lucky, you might accidental solve a family mystery.
(UPDATE: Ancestry has incorporated features of “We’re Related” into the main site…and it’s not what we’d hoped Ancestry.com takes another step away from it’s genealogical roots…)