The sad day most of my Ancestry.com trees went Private/Unsearchable…

The sad day most of my Ancestry.com trees went Private/Unsearchable…

I’m a huge advocate for Public trees in Ancestry.com. Private trees have often been the bane of my existence. I still plan on a post about why I feel we all have a duty to share our research publicly. But, as of today, most of my trees are now private and unsearchable, and it was the right choice.

I wrestled with this for a couple of weeks, but once I found that my trees were getting picked up in Ancestry’s predictive tools (Ben Franklin, and how We’re Related took me from chasing my white whale, to chasing my tail) which ignore all of my warnings about how unreliable my “Working” trees are, I started to understand I probably had to bring these tress undercover.

It’s easy for others to filter out weak research on well documented lines, but on lines with little data, it naturally more likely for undocumented “facts” to get attached to other trees.

This week, I found a new Ancestry tree that contained a bunch of GREAT information on my Leonard line. The user even found my 3x GGF headstone in a little catholic cemetery that my wife and I have been to 3-5 times but we couldn’t find it. It looks like the headstone was dug out of the earth! There was a ton of original research I’d never seen, or had index of, and I was so happy we had a new research expert on this line. Then, I saw that he had relatives past my 2x GGM, who is a major brick wall for me!! This is a well researched tree, great original work…and one of my Working/Uncertified trees was the source of this “breakthrough”. Later, I found that another of my wildly speculative ancestry guesses was in his tree, looking very definitive. One of the comments on my previous post talked about how a reader had their work republished over and over until it became “fact”, and here I could see that happening to mine.

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 11.37.57 AM
My warnings/qualifiers on my speculative trees aren’t enough for humans, and useless for automated algorithms

It’s just too easy for my speculative work to get pulled into trees, that feed other trees, that get repeated so often it’s impossible to determine the source. This is especially true for lines where there’s little to no other data…which is why I’m building a speculative tree in the first place. Very quickly my tree becomes the only reference to these undocumented ancestors, which means it gets found as a “breakthrough” by others who are stuck, which makes it more likely to become authoritative. It’s easy for others to filter out weak research on well documented lines, but on lines with little data, it naturally more likely for undocumented “facts” to get attached to other trees.

So, for now, I’ve taken most of my trees out of the mix on Ancestry.com. It’s hard, and I’m not entirely comfortable with this, but for now I think it’s best.

3 thoughts on “The sad day most of my Ancestry.com trees went Private/Unsearchable…

  1. Hi Rickinracine. While I think that we should share our family history research, we don’t have a duty to share personal photos, certificates we have paid for, or material to which we don’t own the copyright. That’s why I keep my Ancestry tree private.

    If anyone thinks they might be related, they are welcome to contact me – I’d much rather communicate with a fellow researcher than have them help themselves to my paid-for resources without a word.

    While I keep my documents private, I have a public version of the tree available, without documents, for others to access and consider.

    I agree with you about going down the rabbit hole with unsourced, copied family trees.

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    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for the response. First, I didn’t mean “duty” in a judge-y sense, like we’re bad people if we don’t, but it’s more that if I’m consuming original content created by other researchers on their dime, I feel duty bound to share mine as well. I’m well aware that I’m standing on the shoulders of others while build my tree, and that MUCH of what I have came from other who shared freely, so I thus share freely. I suppose if I did all of my own original research, and limited my consumption of external data to commercial services I pay for (like Ancestry’s numerous collections and indexes) it might be different. But some of my greatest breakthroughs that came from my research was built on others original research where they couldn’t quite close the loop.

      I agree that there is some level of abstraction I do with some of my research, so I’m sharing the facts/data and a great citation on how to find the original, but I’m not sharing images of the original. Sometimes it’s because it’s Vital Records documents that we’re prohibited from sharing, or sometimes it’s personal records that I don’t necessarily want consumed by a broader audience…but at least the actionable information is out there.

      I’m still a huge fan of public trees, and I’ve gotten back WAY more info from people that have found my work and then shared with me than I’ve lost with people taking my original work. I also feel that making that research private would limit the amount of sharing (and receiving) coming from those trees. So, my main tree is still Public, and I’ve begun focusing on getting it much more certified/accurate and moving my speculation into other, Private, trees.

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