Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Online Family Trees and Hints with Ancestry

The subject of online family trees elicits a range of responses, from warnings about their accuracy and tirades about poor researchers to glowing endorsements and tales of success.    Reasons for having an online family tree including cousin bait, collaboration, data backup, and tree building tools were noted by Hilary Gadsby in Online Trees. Why have one? My Experience.  Fran Ellsworth warned about relying solely on an online tree for backup in I Can Testify.

I target particular research problems by uploading limited family trees on Ancestry.  My Adams family tree is an example, consisting of just the direct ancestors of my paternal grandfather, Thomas Adams.  The difficulties of tracing a common surname in a big city are explained in Common Surname Trouble – Adams in Birmingham.  I was hoping another researcher may have helpful documents.  Sadly, no-one has made contact through Ancestry.

The tree includes Thomas' marriage to my gran, Mabel Coulson, and details of her birth, death, some residences and photographs.  While cataloguing her photograph collection, I wondered if matching pictures had been uploaded on Ancestry.

Adams family, an online tree on Ancestry

Mabel's ancestry hints include matches to 5 ancestry member trees, 1 census record, an index entry for birth and death, the church register for her marriage, and a completely spurious match to the 1908 city directory for Quincy, Illinois, USA. 

The five public trees were produced by three members, Martin Adams, susandyson90 and Wilbur Moistner.  The only way of contacting these people is through Ancestry, as they had not included any links or other contact details in their member profiles.  The entries for Mabel were minimal with only the 1911 census as a 'proper' source. 

Looking at the tree as a whole rather than just one person, I found a wedding photograph for Mabel's sister, Hilda May Coulson, in two of the Ancestry trees.

However, neither of the authors of these trees were the original contributor of the photo.  Ancestry provides the username of the original contributor, which I really do like very much. 

Wedding photograph of Harold Henry Adams & Hilda May Coulson on Ancestry
Wedding photograph of Harold Henry Adams & Hilda May Coulson on Ancestry
In Mabel's photo collection there is a group photo of this wedding, which includes my grandparents.

Group wedding photograph of Harold Adams & Hilda Coulson
Wedding of Harold Henry Adams & Hilda May Coulson on 23 March 1935 at St James, Ashted, Birmingham.
L to R: Hilda Adams (sister of groom), William Spiers (future husband of Hilda Adams), ?, Harold Henry Adams (groom), Hilda May Coulson (bride), Thomas Adams (future husband of Mabel, not related to groom), Mabel Coulson (sister of bride)

The original contributor of the photo does not now have it on his Ancestry tree.   His Ancestry profile provides a link to a private Tribal Pages tree, which contains the wedding photo and many others.  After I made contact he gave me access, and we both gained new information.  Thank you, Bob!

Why didn't Bob's tree match?  Well, the matching is still not very sophisticated, as illustrated by the Illinois record, and a different date of death for Mabel probably did not help.

Why didn't anyone make contact?  Those with matching trees don't seem to have copied from mine, so perhaps they did not find it.  Anyone who did find it could have simply taken the information, and weren't encouraged to make contact by my blank member profile.  I have followed Bob's example and added information to my profile. 

Member trees offer documents, like the photograph, from the private collections of descendants and relatives.  Apart from the information in the document, information on where it came holds important clues about who may have more treasures.  For me, this is the most valuable part of the much maligned Ancestry member family trees.


  1. It is the photographs that are so nice to see. A cousin of mine uploaded a photograph to Ancestry which she believes is my gt grandfather and my grandmother as a girl. He died when she was only 5 and I have never seen any photos of her as a child.

  2. Sadly there are some who down load our pictures then upload as their own, taking credit for research, then not being able to answer questions when asked, and you don't really know who has the picture. Personal experience. Thank you for the mention. I appreciate that. I totally agree that there are positives in having a tree online, mine is at 4 different sites, but I always state it is a work in progress to not take as fact unless sourced as such. I hear the challenges on shaky leaves the algorithms do not always match.


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