Building a good Public tree – Part Four: Attaching your personal research to your tree

Building a good Public tree – Part Four: Attaching your personal research to your tree

In Part 1 of this series (Building a good Public tree – Part One: sources, citations, facts, and proof), we talked about some of the fundamentals of how to understand the components of a properly sourced a tree on In Part 2 (Building a good Public tree – Part Two: Attaching facts to sources, and using “wrong” facts in your tree), we talked about how it’s best to attach a fact to each source as it’s presented, as opposed to attaching all sources to the preferred fact. In Part 3 (Building a good Public tree – Part Three: Attaching online records to your tree), we walked through putting those approaches into practice using sources found in various databases. In Part 4 we’ll walk you through how to attach your own research to your tree.

When we talk about “your” research, it’s a broader concept than just the work you’ve done, it also includes the sources you’ve found outside of We’ll cover both here, but think of this part as focusing on all the data you’ve found that supports your tree that other users might not have knowledge of or access to. We have a lot of Google Books sources in our trees, along with original research conducted in cemeteries, courthouses, and family interviews, and bringing that context outside of what’s commonly found on Ancestry will be of huge value to those researching the same ancestors as you.

One thing we’ve learned is that for all of what we’ve put out in original research, we’ve gotten back much more from other researchers who have done their work on our lines. It’s pretty evident that by giving more publicly, you will receive back more than you give.

One caveat before we begin on this Part of the series, the tool we use primarily to source our research isn’t, it’s Family Tree Maker. This is about the only portion of the series where we’re not practicing what we preach, but he goal was to show how to use to create a good, solid tree that can be shared Publicly, and keeping with that we’ll use only that tool to achieve the desired result. Just understand, we haven’t done as much work on establishing a process for these sources in Ancestry as we have for the rest of parts of this series.

Create Media for your source

Before we create a source, we prepare a .jpg of the source we’re going to share so we’re ready to attach it into the tree. Creating that image consists of 3 steps:

  • Create an image/transcript of the source
  • Attach our citation to the image/transcript
  • Create the final image that contains both the image/transcript and the citation

This was a lesson learned the hard way. Our first major research was with a local cemetery that contained a large number of Rick’s Father’s Mother’s family, and that had largely been uncatalogued. After gathering a large number of documents and photos, we attached them to our tree to the great delight of a couple of researchers who we’d been in contact with and who had been working on this line for over a decade each. We attached photos of the documents and/or graves, created the proper citation info in Ancestry, attached it our tree and left it at that. Within two days, both researchers took the images from our source, attached just them to their trees, and presented them without any of the citation information we’d attached to the record. For all intents and purposes, it was presented as their own photos, and to this day we see them shared on other people’s tree with absolutely no source info attached.

Since then, we’ve learned to embed our citation info in every publicly shared image so that no matter where the image is saved people can always source the original if they care to. Here’s how we do it, using a Marriage Record found in the Kenosha County, Wisconsin courthouse.

Create an image/transcript of the source

This record is typical of something you’d find a courthouse. At the time, we were looking for information on James Treadwell and came across a marriage record for someone we weren’t familiar with, but we’ve long had a theory that James moved to Wisconsin with a brother Ephraim, so the name popped out at us. We didn’t purchase a copy of the records, so we jotted down the information in our notebook. Upon further research, this is Ephraim’s son, and so we’ve transcribed the record to attach it to our tree.

It’s essential you transcribe the information as it’s recorded, even if that information is unclear or incorrect. You can address it later either in the citation, or notes in your tree, but you’ll usually only have one chance to get the original information down accurately. You’d rather have the accurate record later, and interpret it later, than to do the interpretation while you’re at the courthouse, and find out later your interpretation is incorrect. In this example, that’s exactly what happened to us. I originally wrote off this

Marriage Record Notes
Notes taken while at the Kenosha County Courthouse

record because if he was Ephraim’s son likely couldn’t have been born in Baltimore, MD and there was no Balitmore/Ballamore, NY. Additionally, his mother’s name would have been Marina not Mary Ann, so I assumed it was either wrong on the document or that it was not Ephraim’s son. Two years later I’ve come to find that Ephraim Baker Tradewell was likely born in New Baltimore Township, NY and that Mary Ann was Ephraim’s previously unknown first wife, and he married Marina after Mary’s death. It was good that we copied the record exactly as we read it.

The transcription is a Word document, typed to match our notes. For other document type, we’d insert an image in Word document. So if it’s from a Google Book, we’d use a Snipping Tool to make an image grab of the page we’re citing, and insert that into Word. The same would be true for a photo of a grave, or a capture of a webpage.

Marriage Certificate, Ephriam Tradewell and Harriet Dana (D14-0024)
Transcript of the notes above

Attach our citation to the image/transcript

We promise not to go on a long discussion of citation standards here, but suffice to say that you should have one and we strongly endorse the standards described in Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. You should craft your citation and include it below your source in the Word document. For transcriptions, you would type it below the main text, and for photos you’d create a text box under the image and place the citation inside. This is great not just for sharing, but also for your own documentation, to ensure you have properly cited sources available for all your records.

Create the final image that contains both the image/transcript and the citation

Once you have the Word document created with the source info and the citation, use a Snipping Tool to make a .jpg capture of the final document. But doing it this way, no matter how your image is shared online, the original citation will survive for future researchers to reference.

Create the facts supported in the source for your Ancestors

Again using Ephraim Baker Tradewell’s marriage record as an example, we can identify several facts that this source supports: husband’s name, wife’s name, husband’s residence at the time of marriage, Husband’s birthplace, marriage date and location, and the names the husband’s and wife’s parents.  Create each of those facts, as they are captured by the record, before creating the source. It will be easier to attach the source to all the facts than it is to do it the other way around.

Add the Source

From the “Facts” view of your ancestor, click “Add Source…” and If you already have defined your source, select it. If you haven’t already defined the source, select “create a new source…”.

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If you have already defined your repository, select it, otherwise click “create a new repository…”.

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Enter as much of the Repository information as you prefer, following your citation standard and click “Save Repository”.

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Complete the Source information as you prefer, again following your citation standard. For us that means attaching the “Source List Entry” information (as defined in Evidence Explained, 9.34 for this example) in the “Title” field. When you’re done, click “Save Source”.

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With the Source information properly selected in Box 1, turn to Box 2 – Citation. Enter your citation, using your standard (we’re using the “First Reference Note” from EE), and enter the date of the source and the “Transcript of Text” if you can. This transcript box will be indexed by, and will be a part of the search results of anyone looking for keyword matches that are in this box. This is rarely completed on Ancestry, but it’s very powerful for matching others with your work.

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Scroll down to Box 3, and select each of the facts that are supported by this source. Click “Submit” when you’re done.

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You should now see your Source attached to your facts. We included detail in the Notes for the facts where there were some questions about what was in the record.

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Next, “View” the source and select the “Media” tab on the right. From here, click “add media to source”. Select the .jpg file we created earlier, and enter the date, location, and type of document. Click “Done” when you’re complete.

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Next, for each person named in the source, repeat the process above (other than defining the Source and Repository) and attach the appropriate facts. This is a bit of a pain, and it’s one of the reasons we do our Sourcing and Citations in Family Tree Maker…it’s MUCH easier.


Building a good Public tree – Part Three: Attaching online records to your tree

Building a good Public tree – Part Three: Attaching online records to your tree

In Part 1 of this series (Building a good Public tree – Part One: sources, citations, facts, and proof), we talked about some of the fundamentals of how to understand the components of a properly sourced a tree on In Part 2 (Building a good Public tree – Part Two: Attaching facts to sources, and using “wrong” facts in your tree), we talked about how it’s best to attach a fact to each source as it’s presented, as opposed to attaching all sources to the preferred fact. In Part 3 we’re going to walk through putting those approaches into practice using sources found in various databases.

The key to creating a good Public tree is this: make sure you have a source for every fact you attach to an ancestor, with the caveat that Members Trees are NOT sources.

Start with what you know

With that in mind, you should start the tree with what you know. It’s ok at this point for there to be no sources attached to the facts, you’re just trying to get the outlines of your tree fleshed out with the data you know.

We’re going to use Captain Ephraim Treadwell (1710-1782) as an example for this process. This ancestor is in a “Working/Uncertified” tree of ours, and to start we’ve only attached a death record from “Connecticut, Church Record Abstracts, 1630-1920”. This is a good example of a skeleton tree that we might build out quickly to get an idea of the family, and then go back and flesh out the ancestors.

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Review your “shaky leaf” hints one-by-one, with an eye towards accuracy

Just because something is listed as a “fact” on Ancestry, doesn’t mean it’s either a fact or accurate. Take a few moments to understand the source, give it a quick “smell test” and decide what/how you’re going to use the source.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 10.43.20 AMFor example, the “FindaGrave” entry for Ephraim has facts and a photo of the headstone. A quick review of the two highlights that the entry doesn’t match the headstone. That’s a good indication that whomever is managing the FAG entry has likely added material they have that is not actually tied to the grave. Since you can’t confirm things like the birth date entry from FindaGrave, we’d only tie in the facts that are in the record: Name, birth year, death date, burial location and military service.

Let’s look at another example of how you want to review these sources for accuracy. One of the hints for Ephraim is from the “Family Data Collection”, and it lists his death date as: 1 Nov 1782. If you dig into what the Family Data Collection consists of (click the “Learn more…” link at the end of the record) you’ll see right away that this data is VERY derivative and quite separated from the original sources. The more that’s true for any source, the more likely it is to be unreliable. In this case it’s in a database that was spilt in 3 parts from an original database, and that original was hand-entered based on obits, family histories, family group sheets, books of remembrance, etc. which are almost never themselves original sources. So you have at least 4 levels between these records and the original sources, and the data has been transcribed by people at least twice.

When you compare the death date between the headstone photo and the Family Data Collection, they are not the same. In-fact they are very different: 11 Jan 1782 and 1 Nov 1782. Right away you should notice that in the US standard notation of dates, someone likely transcribed the numbers: 1/11/1782 vs. 11/1/1782. While headstones often have pjimageincorrect data of their own, knowing that the Family Data Collection was transcribed at least twice and the headstone was commissioned, and likely approved, by a family member much closer to the time of death, we’d set the headstone date as Primary and the FDC date as an Alternate. Even here, we’ll enter both facts in Ephraim’s record, knowing one is likely incorrect, because with only two sources at this point we only have a theory on what happened to these dates, and we want to save the analysis for later when all the facts/sources have been reviewed.

Attach the facts to the sources

Going back to the FindaGrave example, we’ve identified the facts that are supported by this record: Name, birth year, death date, burial location and military service. When we merge the record into Ancestry, the tool defaults to the birthday listed in FAG, but we’re going to change it to “Abt. 1709” since the headstone only lists his age at his death in 1792. Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 12.03.41 PMThis is a bit of a judgement call (he much more likely would have been born in 1708 if we was 73 at death), but we’ll go with a simple 1792-93=1709 calculation to be consistent. His death date is in conflict with the church abstracts that we used for his death date originally, but since that source is also quite abstracted from original source material, for now we’ll again defer to the headstone.

One key point to make comes up when we attach the burial location. The record lists the cemetery as being located in “Farmington, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA” but that does not follow Ancestry’s location naming standard. The “County” is omitted in their standard, and you should try and have locations noted as closely to that standard as you can because that’s how they index locations for searching. You have will have better results if Ancestry can use location information that matches their indexes.

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We’ll ignore the other family members, again because the graveyard information doesn’t indicate those relationships. This will have created the source and attached 4 facts, but we’ll still need to go back and create the record for Ephraim’s military service manually.

Repeat this process for every source in with a shaky leaf, and when you’re done review your work. Do all the facts have at least one source? Are the locations standardized? Are the right facts set as Preferred? Do you have duplicate Alternate facts (we often do, and will attach a source to one of them, and delete the other)?

This entire process took me less than 5 min. to complete. It doesn’t take much time to link the hints up accurately, even when you have 15 hints.

Once this step is complete, we’ll move on to attaching Member Trees.

Attach ancestors from Member Trees that match your ancestors, but do so in a way that doesn’t attach any facts

The biggest issue with Ancestry’s Member Trees is that they are often poorly sourced, and very easy to copy to your tree. This creates a cycle where the trees themselves become sources for the facts about an ancestor, and the original sourcing (if it was there) is lost. As you repeat this, people will discover your tree, link to it using your tree as a source, and quickly the problem grows exponentially.

One way around this is to link your ancestors, but don’t use their trees to source your facts. To get around that, as we attach Member Tree review any facts marked as “new” to verify if they have a source you don’t have, and if they do, add that source, and then re-try the linking.

To do this, select “Review Member Trees” and “select all trees” before clicking on “Review Selected Tree Hints”.

Initially, we see only one difference between the collection of Member Trees and our tree: “they” have Ephraim’s death location listed as “Fairfield, Fairfield, Connecticut, USA” instead of “Farmington, Hartford, Connecticut, USA”. To address the difference, cancel out of saving to your tree, and scroll through the list of matches to see which show the fact that doesn’t match your tree. Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.44.30 PMFor Ephraim, 6 out of 10 trees list his death location as Fairfield, CT. Going through those 6 trees, we see that each use the Family Data Collection as the sole source for the fact. Given that we’ve reviewed the FDC, and put it on the fringe of credible sources, it’s safe to ignore the fact when we link with the Member Trees. If there was a good source, we would have added that source to our tree and then reattempted the match. We would have seen the “Different” flag removed, and proceeded to the next difference.

Once you’re comfortable that all of the facts match as well as they are going to, review and make sure there are no checkmarks in front of any facts. If you do have checkmarks, it means you’re about to link a fact with “Ancestry Member Trees” as the source, which we’re trying to avoid. Repeat the above review/link source process until there are no checkmarks.

Once you’ve attached Member Trees to your ancestor, you’ll have a link in the system that will help you be notified when others find information on them, and others can easily click the source and review your matching tree, but your tree will continue to be properly sourced with only the sources you’ve reviewed and attached.

What’s next?

From here, you can run a search in Ancestry, and since you have a solid base of facts, your search results will much more focused and likely to be an accurate match. Just attach new sources and facts as detailed above, and your tree will continue to be well sourced.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll share ideas on how to attach and source your own research to your Public tree!

Building a good Public tree – Part Two: Attaching facts to sources, and using “wrong” facts in your tree

Building a good Public tree – Part Two: Attaching facts to sources, and using “wrong” facts in your tree

In Part 1 of this series (Building a good Public tree – Part One: sources, citations, facts, and proof), we talked about some of the fundamentals of how to understand the components of a properly sourced a tree on In Part 2, we’re going to talk about a critical way to approach your trees before we walk through putting everything into practice and building your tree.

Attach all sources to the preferred fact, or list a fact for each source? 

There are two schools of thought on how to attach facts to sources online. The most common method is to attach all facts of the same type (say Date of Birth) to the primary Date of Birth, even though they don’t match. The other will link each source with the fact asserted in that source. For instance, my 2xGGF Wesley has an obituary that indicates a date of birth of 16 Dec 1837, and there are census entries that indicate he was born abt. 1836, abt. 1837, Dec 1837, and abt. 1838. The method most people use for their trees would have you set the primary date of birth as 16 Dec 1837, and have the census birthdates attach to that date since it’s primary.

The other approach, and the one we use, is to attach each fact to each source as they are sourced. So, for example, we have chosen 16 Dec 1837 as Wesley’s Preferred birth date and we’ve attached the two sources that indicate that date: his obituary and his family bible. For the 1850 Census has Wesley’s birthday listed as “abt. 1836”, and so we have an Alternate Fact for that, with the 1850 Census attached as a source. The same for the 1860 Census and “abt. 1837”. Repeating the process we end up with 5 dates of birth for Wesley.


A lot of people avoid this approach because your ancestor end up with many events like dates of birth, when in reality an ancestor can only have one birthdate, and because all the records can clutter the ancestor’s record. We couldn’t imagine having all the records tied to a single, preferred fact because it would be so difficult having to research each source attached to a birthday in order to find which actually supports that fact.

Here’s an example. While preparing Part 3 of this series, we used an ancestor Ephraim Treadwell as an example, and when clicking through to review the sources attached to other’s Member Trees, in an attempt to resolve a conflict on his place of death, this is what we encountered:

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Why would we search through 7 sources to find out which one has the wrong death location?

This is how every Member Tree was sourced, and looking at his death fact, it seems to indicate that every source supports that date of death and that his place of death is Fairfield, CT. But, in-fact, none of the sources support his death location, and only some support his death day. To determine which sources support which facts, we have to review each source individually. We sure wish they had chosen to link each source to the fact as it was sourced, but by choosing to link all sources to the preferred death fact, we have to dig through each source to determine what those sources actually support.

In the end, we’re big advocates for showing what the sources support, with facts listed as they are asserted, as the best way to get a true picture of the facts that make up your ancestor’s record. Even when those facts aren’t precise, or even correct.

Connect all facts, even when they don’t appear correct 

It’s counter-intuitive that we’d attach facts that we know to be incorrect in-order for us to better understand what’s correct, but when you consider that you can never know the accuracy of any historical fact, it’s hard to support ignoring facts you only think are inaccurate.

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 9.10.46 AMTaking a look at Wesley’s father James, we see a range of birth dates that range from 1790-1799. We don’t have a great record that indicates his birth date, but most of what we have clusters around 1796-97. Seeing the range helped when we found a Family Bible entry for James that indicated 11 Aug 1796. Even though the bible entry was completed at some point after 1855, so it wasn’t entered at his time of birth, but we can be comfortable that the date fits the previously known range. It also helps when reviewing early censuses. We reviewed the 1820 Census with the idea that his age would likely be between 21 and 30, but that since we only have one outlying record that shows 1790, it’s likely he’d be <30 years old. It’s also likely his age was closer to 23-24 and it was not uncommon for male children to be living on their parent’s farm at that age. It’s helpful to be able to understand all of that from a quick glance at his record in our tree, instead of having to dig through 9 sources to figure out his birth day.

Only through the complete presentation of all records can you review and identify what facts are likely correct. Because of that, we prefer to present all of the facts as they are sourced, and later interpret what’s likely accurate/inaccurate. If you’re editing as you’re attaching sources, it’s very easy to make the facts fit your current understanding of your ancestor when it might be more appropriate to use the facts to change your current understanding.

In the end neither choice is officially right or wrong, but we wanted to put it out there for your consideration, and to let you know why we will approach facts and sources differently than most other researchers.

In the next installment of this series we’ll get to work and start building a good Public tree!