Ancestry Blog » Site Features The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:23:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Quick Guide Available: New Facts Page Wed, 01 Jul 2015 18:22:39 +0000 Read more]]> The updated Facts view lets you add facts, family members, sources, and more. To get you started, take a look at these common tasks and how you can perform them with the new site.

Guide to Facts View

(1) Find a person in your tree—While this feature works the same, you’ll find it on the top-left side of the page. Click the person/search icon to open the search field.

(2) Use the Tools menu.

– View in Tree—Opens the family tree with this individual as the focus.
– View Notes—Lets you view notes you’ve entered for a person. For more information on this feature click here.
– View Comments—Lets you view comments you’ve made (or others have made). For more information on this feature click here.
– Merge with Duplicate—Lets you merge the person with someone else in your tree. For more information on this feature click here.

(3) Use the Edit menu.

– Save to Tree—Lets you save the person to another family tree.
– Edit Relationships—Lets you change relationship types. For example, you can change a child from biological to adopted or vice versa. For more information on this feature click here.
– Delete Person—Lets you delete an individual from your tree permanently.

(4) Add a fact—You can add a fact for a person using the Add drop-down above the Facts list. For more information on this feature click here.

(5) View your relationship to the individual—Relationships are calculated automatically in the new Ancestry. Click the relationship link to view. For more information on this feature click here.

(6) View the number of available hints—At the top of the page you’ll see the current number of hints for a person next to the Hints tab.

(7) Add a source—It’s easier than ever to add a new source, simply click the Add drop-down above the Sources list.

(8) Add a family member—Like the classic site, you can add a family member using the Add drop-down on the right side of the page.

(9) See how sources and facts are connected together—Click a fact to see connecting lines indicating which sources support the fact; click a source to see which facts it supports.

(10) View and add web links—At the bottom of the sources list, you can view, add and edit your web links.


The instructions in this article pertain to our New Ancestry experience. If you are not yet using this experience and would like to switch, please click here for instructions.

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Historical Insights: Walking in My Ancestors’ Shoes Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:05:22 +0000 Read more]]> Reed family in CaliforniaI never understood my parents’ obsession with family history until I started to see my ancestors as more than just names and dates—and dusty old records. At first it was reading my Grandpa Pete’s journal describing the Statue of Liberty when his family arrived from Denmark. And when I read The Grapes of Wrath and heard how my grandparents also lived in a truck as they journeyed from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl, I was completely hooked. Over the years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching historical events trying to understand the challenges my ancestors faced and learn more about their daily lives. Now, you can have a similar experience delivered to you by Ancestry through Historical Insights.

What Are Historical Insights?

One of the goals of the new Ancestry experience is to help you uncover the stories behind the facts in your tree. And one of the ways to do this is to discover the historical events that shaped the lives of your ancestors. I’ve spent quite a bit of time gathering info and photos for my great-grandpa Jim Bobbitt. If you asked me his birth and death dates and states he’d lived in, I could rattle them off quickly. But the LifeStory interspersed with Historical Insights changed my perspective on his life. In a glance I could see that he was born before the Civil War (and as I learned through an Insight, he was living in Illinois when Lincoln and Douglas had their famous debates there) and died after World War I. I imagined the changes he saw over his lifetime, from the Emancipation Proclamation and women’s suffrage to a world embroiled in a global conflict.

HI_homesteadersOther events crystallized in my mind too. I knew he moved from Illinois to Nebraska in the 1870s, but until I saw the Historical Insight about homesteading, I didn’t realize it was during a time when the U.S. government opened up western lands and offered pioneers acres of free land. Was this why he moved his family? And although I knew Jim had participated in the Oklahoma Land Rush, I gained a new appreciation for this exciting moment in American history when I looked at the images and stories included in the Insight. After learning so much about his life, I found myself clicking from person to person enjoying my tree in a way I hadn’t before, watching these amazing people coming to life on my computer screen.

How Do We Know What Your Ancestor Experienced?

So how did Ancestry know to put information about the Lincoln Debates, Homestead Act, and Oklahoma Land Rush on my great-grandpa’s LifeStory? Insights are a lot like hints. We use algorithms that look at records and facts in your tree and compare them to dates and locations of historical events. In the case of my great-grandpa, the system could tell he moved from Illinois to Nebraska between 1870 and 1880 using census records I’d saved to my tree. Because Nebraska was one of the states opened up by the Homestead Act during this time period, the event was added to his timeline. You may find that some family members aren’t included in specific events like you expected (or relatives have irrelevant Insights on their timeline). That’s because Insights are like hints and won’t always be presented for the correct people.

Where Can You See Insights?

When we first launched Historical Insights, they could be viewed only on Apple iOS mobile devices. We’re happy to announce that they’re now available on the desktop too. All you need to do is sign in to the new version of Ancestry. (If you haven’t tried the new site yet, now is the time. And if you try it and want to go back to using the current version, just click “Classic Site” from your account drop-down menu.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 3.25.31 PMHistorical Insights appear automatically in each family member’s LifeStory. To learn more about the event and see historical photographs, simply click the photo (or Review button). If you like the Insight and want to keep it in the timeline, click the Keep button; click Ignore if you don’t want to see the Insight again for this person. Make sure you select Keep or Ignore for each Insight because only two new Insights will appear on a timeline at once. After you accept or ignore an Insight, you just might get something new the next time you view the LifeStory. (Notice that other family members who might have been affected by the historical event are also shown.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 4.09.41 PMYou can hide Historical Insights on the LifeStory and Facts view. For example, if you’re busy in research mode and don’t want them taking up space in the timeline, click the settings drop-down menu and choose “Hide Historical Insights.”

What’s Ahead?

Because Ancestry members have ancestors that crisscross the world and have lived through many centuries, we know that we won’t be able to cover every flood, plague, war, or immigration wave that ever happened. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try. By the end of June we’ll have almost 600 Historical Insights for 20 countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, South Africa, China, Mexico, and Hungary. And if you have family living in America during the Revolutionary War or Civil War, you’ll want to check your ancestors’ timelines in coming weeks; new Insights will let you know whether you have relatives who were living near battlefields during these key conflicts.

Let’s Hear from You

Although we have a team of experts combing through history books, websites, and timelines looking for events that changed the world, we want to know what interests you. Did a new industry revitalize your grandpa’s hometown and bring masses of workers to the area? Was an earthquake responsible for the destruction of an entire town causing your family to move? Let us know in the Comments section about the historical events that you’d love to see in your ancestors’ timelines.

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The New Facts View: Make Sure You Are Climbing YOUR Family Tree and Not Someone Else’s Mon, 08 Jun 2015 12:45:33 +0000 Read more]]> Have you seen the new Facts View on your Ancestry online tree?  If you haven’t let me tell you what you are missing.  Just like before, you will find the facts you’ve discovered and entered about the life of a person in your tree running down the page like a timeline.  You will also find that the parents, spouse and children of the person are on the right-hand side of the page just where they have always been.  The big change you will discover is that the sources that support those facts and relationships are now front and center.

Old Facts View [Left] New Facts View [Right]

Old Ancestor Profile [Left] New LifeStory and Facts View [Right]

All good genealogists know that you need to cite your sources.  The Genealogical Proof Standard states that we should do a reasonably exhaustive search into the records that will provide information about our ancestors’ lives.  We should then analyze and correlate that information and resolve any conflicts before coming to conclusions about who our ancestors may have been, what their relationship were to each other, and what events occurred in their lives.

I do this by looking at record hints, searching directly from my tree to see what bubbles up to the top of the search results, and then craft very specific searches, looking for any additional records I may have missed.  That’s my search process.  Each time I find a record that pertains to one of my ancestors, I save it to that person in my tree.  With all of those attached records in my tree, I can now see exactly what facts are supported by any one of those sources by clicking the source.

Facts View

Facts View

Isn’t that great?  It goes the other way, too.  I can click on any fact in the timeline and it will show me which sources support that specific fact.

Facts View

Facts View

We can also add sources for records that we find other places.  Web links, for things found on other websites, will soon be incorporated as sources.  We can scan documents that we order from archives and libraries and manually create sources for those as well.  All of our research is now front and center in the Facts View.

I am loving this!  Since using this new tool with my Ancestry Online Tree, I have become a better researcher.  I am careful to make sure that what I enter into my tree is backed up by sources.  I also make sure that I’m consulting the right sources and that if I come across conflicting evidence, I make good notes to explain why I chose one date over another or one particular spelling of a surname.  All of this is important to me because I want to make sure that I am climbing my own family tree, not someone else’s.

How is the new Facts View helping your research?

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Ancestry LifeStory: The Life Lived in the Dash Tue, 02 Jun 2015 17:00:09 +0000 Read more]]> As a genealogist, I love putting the puzzle of the family tree together.  I love the process of reasonably exhaustive searches and analysis and correlation of evidence. I love how one genealogical question leads to another and those questions lead to records that lead to more questions.  It’s exciting to share that “thrill of the hunt” with other genealogists. But, when it comes time to share with my family, they want to know who these people were, what they did for work, how they lived, who they loved.

We often identify people in our family tree by name and then a birth date and a death date.  A grandfather can show up in your online tree and family history reports as Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980).  It’s easy to fill in those blanks and move on.  But, it’s also important to remember that there is a whole life that was lived in the dash between those two dates.  In order to truly honor his memory and to ensure that our living family members (the ones who aren’t all that into genealogy but all love a good story) actually pay attention, we need to take the dry facts about the life of Herbert and weave them into a story that will last.  It’s one of the only ways all of our hard work is likely to have a lasting effect on our family.

There is another benefit of putting together the story of “the life lived in the dash.” The process of taking all those facts and weaving them into a story forces me to look at the same information in a different way.  It causes the holes and inconsistencies in my research to float to the surface and guides me in additional research.  Facts that don’t make sense are easier to spot when you read through the story.


With the new Ancestry LifeStory, we take the facts you have collected, let you upload pictures and documents, and weave in historical happenings that may have influenced your ancestors and their life choices.  An automated process gets you started.  There is a summary narrative at the top of the page that summarizes the person’s life in 4-5 sentences.  As you move through the LifeStory page you will also see event narratives.  These short sentences appear for births, marriages, and deaths that occur in the life of the individual.


Now, sometimes these summary narratives or event narratives may seem a little odd.  One reason could be that you have attached the wrong record, the wrong spouse, or the wrong date to a person.  We’ve all done it.  The good news is that this new LifeStory view makes it easier to discover those mistakes and fix them. We’ll talk more about the new Facts View another time. But, all of the information we are using to create this LifeStory come from the facts you have already created, the records you have already attached, and the relationships you have already connected to this person.  So, if you find something in the LifeStory view that isn’t correct, just flip over the Facts View to add the right information, delete the wrong information, or correct the relationship that got confused.

Once you get some of those errors cleaned up, remember that there is more to the story your ancestors’ lives than the bare facts.  There is information in family stories that goes beyond what is documented in records.  Think about that time your dad got that nasty scar at Uncle Bob’s ranch or that one Thanksgiving where the kids got together and planned an impromptu theatrical performance.  LifeStory narratives are a good start.  But, the story can be so much richer.  To that end, we let you edit the narratives to tell your story the way you want – as robust and colorful as your family’s history.

Photos, Maps and Historical Insights

Nothing makes a family history more colorful than great pictures.  LifeStory gives you tools to organize your photos so they support and enrich your family stories. (Watch this blog for more about Media Gallery later.)

Part of the LifeStory is a view into the places that were the backdrop of your ancestors’ lives.  These locations come directly from the places you have entered on your ancestors’ facts and placed on a map.  This is a great way to learn more about the settings that determined the opportunities and challenges they faced.  It will also highlight any errors you may have made while researching.  If a location doesn’t make sense to you, or to our computers, it will become apparent pretty quickly.

CSU_HerbetMcLuhanLifestory_png 2

One of the final touches we’ve added to LifeStory is Historical Insights.  To understand the story of your ancestor it is crucial to know the historical context in which they were living. Based on facts and sources you have for your ancestor, we try to find events in history that might be relevant to tell the ancestor’s story. They work like hints, only instead of having a record or a photo behind the leaf they have a curated page with richer content about that episode in history. They appear on the LifeStory timeline for you to review. We target Historical Insights so they work most of the time, but we realize they don’t always fit. Sometimes insights are irrelevant for the person and sometimes it’s just not an interesting part of their life story. Just click to ignore and it will go away.

CSU_HerbetMcLuhanLifestory_png 3

I’m excited about the opportunities LifeStory opens up for me.  This view helps me find my own errors and correct them so that I’m representing the truth about my ancestors’ lives.  It also helps me recreate the stories of their ancestors’ lives with features not previously available in a way that engages the imaginations and memories of the rest of my family.

I can’t wait to hear what new things you discover and create with the Ancestry LifeStory.

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Announcing the New Ancestry Website Mon, 01 Jun 2015 22:40:58 +0000 Read more]]> We are excited to announce that the new Ancestry website is now available to all U.S.-based members*. As some of you know, the new site has been in beta since mid-February, and thousands of Ancestry members have been actively using the new site and providing feedback (thank you!). As of today, the new Ancestry site is available to the broader Ancestry member community.

The new Ancestry site has been designed to transform how you can discover and tell your family story. One of the greatest unmet needs of our members has been the desire for story. We all like to listen to and share stories, but it can sometimes be hard to unravel and tell the stories behind all the facts and information you have gathered in your tree.  With new storytelling features and a streamlined design, the new Ancestry helps you weave together richer stories that can bring you closer to knowing your ancestors as people.

It’s your family story, reinvented.

To get the big picture of the new Ancestry, see this quick video:

For a detailed FAQ on the new site and what’s included, click here.

To try the new site now, click here.

We hope you enjoy the new Ancestry – and experience a whole new way to bring your ancestors’ stories to life.


* We rolled the new website out to U.S.-based customers to start and expect the rest of the world to experience it in the next couple of months.

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Beyond “The Wet Dog Effect”: Telling Your Story with the New Ancestry Fri, 17 Apr 2015 14:52:17 +0000 Read more]]> Have you ever had one of those days when you made a major breakthrough in your family history? What do you do? You corner one of your kids, a spouse, or even a stranger walking down the street and tell them all about how cool it was that you finally realized there was a transcription error in the census and that led you to search differently in the Ohio death records and when you saw the witness on the death certificate you knew it was Molly and not Mary! What do they do? Run for cover. I’ve been guilty of this many times. I call this the wet dog effect. You know, like on a hot summer day when your dog has been having a great time swimming in the lake, and he comes out and wants to share his excitement by shaking all of that wet goodness all over you and your picnic. So I guess as a genealogist, I’m like a wet dog.


Dog Shaking Off Water


For many  of us, one of the thrills in our family history journey comes when we move beyond names, dates, and places to discover the rich and unique stories of our ancestors. But one of the challenges in family history is that it can take a lot of work to tell the story of an ancestor in a way that lives up to their legacy. Especially if those you are trying to tell it to aren’t genealogists. First you have to discover the basic genealogical facts – the names, dates, places, events, and relationships. These of course need to be substantiated with evidence – so you link all of the historical records you’ve discovered to the ancestor. To really make a compelling story, you need to add more richness and context. You need to add photos of people and places. Add to that descriptions of local, national, and world events that would have impacted their lives. Next you plot the events of their life on a map or a timeline. Oh, and then you have to add in what was happening with their family. To top it all off, you embellish with brief excerpts of stories that you’ve discovered about the family along the way. Now that you have the raw material together, you can craft that into a compelling story.

That is a lot of work. Wouldn’t it be easier if you had a time machine and could just transport yourself back to Southern Wisconsin in the 1840s? Well we haven’t finished our time machine yet but as part of the new, improved Ancestry site (discussed here), you can experience a whole new way for your ancestors’ lives to come to life.

The New Ancestry introduces features like LifeStory and Historical Insights, as well as powerful enhancements to the Facts View and Media Gallery that transform how you view, arrange, and share the details of your ancestors’ lives, helping you weave together a richer, more complete picture of the events, places, and times that shaped the people who led to you.

The LifeStory jump-starts the effort to bring the story of your ancestors to life by analyzing all of the events, sources, and relationships you’ve added to your tree. It uses this information to create a time-based story with the highlights of your ancestor’s life.




The ‘storified’ timeline includes a map and any photographs that you’ve added to your tree which contain date information. Brief snippets of important events in the lives of your ancestor’s parents, spouse and children are automatically included in the LifeStory. Finally, Ancestry evaluates the life of your ancestor and attempts to add deeper perspective through new Historical Insights that let you explore the meaningful moments in history that may have impacted your family.





The LifeStory can give you new perspective and help you have a better sense of what it would have been like to live way back when. But remember, the auto-generated LifeStory is just the beginning. You can also enhance the story and make it your own. You can edit all of the narrative snippets, choose which Historical Insights you want to keep, and enhance the story with photos. The end result: a fast path to creating a story that captures the rich tapestry of your ancestor’s life.




Over the coming weeks we plan to share a series of blog posts that go into more detail on the exciting changes in the New Ancestry. If you’d like a chance to see it for yourself, sign up on a waitlist to get early access. We hope you’ll find that it gives you a more intuitive, better curated, more natural way to tell stories than can to live up to the remarkable lives your ancestors lived. Then, rather than overwhelming our loved ones with details like a wet dog, we can tell them truly meaningful, engaging stories about their family.

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Introducing Historical Insights Tue, 02 Dec 2014 14:25:54 +0000 Read more]]>

What was it like for your immigrant great-grandparents to pass through Ellis Island? Did your mother watch as the Great Mississippi flood destroyed her hometown? Have you ever wondered what your grandfather’s life was like when he served in the army in World War I?

We realize how much these types of historical events shaped your ancestors’ lives—and how much richer they make your family history experience. To help you discover some of these amazing stories behind your family tree, we’re launching a new feature called Historical Insights. You may find out that your relatives lived in North Carolina when pirates roamed the coastline or that they followed the Oregon Trail to make a new home in the West.

Historical Insights

Introducing Historical Insights

So how does it work? In some ways, insights are like hints. While we can’t be positive that your family member experienced a certain event like the San Francisco earthquake, we use information you’ve added to your tree and historical records to determine whether your relative might have been in the city in 1906 when it occurred. And like hints, you have the ability to accept an insight and keep it in a person’s profile or ignore it.

You’ll also be able to see at a glance all the family members we think experienced the same event. You may discover that ancestors who never knew each other were actually shaped by the same moment in history.Historical Insights 2

You can see insights for your own family using your iPhone or iPad, if you’re using the latest version of our mobile app. In coming months, Historical Insights will be added to the website. A preview of the insight will appear on a person’s timeline—just look for the leaf. To read about the historical event and see photos, simply tap the insight in the timeline.Historical Insights 3

While researching these insights our team enjoyed learning how history touched the lives of our ancestors again and again. We hope that you will too.

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Do You Have a Search Strategy? Thu, 10 Jul 2014 23:06:01 +0000 Read more]]> 20140708-search-downloadAs I write this, I’m getting ready for a trip to Utah. As a fairly frequent traveler, I know that to make the trip less stressful, I need lists. Lists are what keep me from wandering around the house searching for nothing in particular, grasping randomly for things I might need, and missing items I definitely need.

With a little forethought and a checklist, I do a much better job packing and spend less time running around my house like a crazy person.

When I’m searching for my ancestors, I like to take this strategic approach as well. A good research plan with a clear goal will allow you to choose the best path for your search.

There are a lot of different ways to search for your ancestors on, and different strategies will work best in different situations. For example, if you’re just starting to research a family member, you might start with a global search of all the collections on so you can grab the low-hanging fruit that will come up with just a few basic facts like a name, year of birth, and a place where the person lived. But if you have a specific goal, like finding him or her in the 1920 U.S. census, it doesn’t make sense to wade through all 14 billion records; going directly to 1920 will have you working with a much smaller and more manageable subset of the collections.

You could also search on a category level or in one of the many special collections that Ancestry has created for specific record types or ethnic research.

To help you navigate the different types of searches and what situations each one is best suited for, this month we’ve kicked off a series of free downloads on the various ways to search In coming months we’ll take a closer look at the various types of search and include tips that will have you searching like a pro in no time. Download our Search Strategies guide.

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Ask Ancestry Anne Search Tip #5: Start Small, Go Big — Using Sliders in Search Thu, 13 Mar 2014 15:29:50 +0000 Read more]]> has over 12 billion records and finding the ones you care about is easier when you have a few tricks at your disposal.

One of the best? Filters.  Name, Location and Date. And to make those filters just a bit easier to use, we’ve added the new Sliders feature. Do you have 5 minutes? Watch this video and I’ll walk you through it.

image01Happy Searching!



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A Fond Farewell to “Old Search” Mon, 10 Mar 2014 18:00:15 +0000 Read more]]> Last week we said a fond farewell to the “Old Search” functionality on the site. Over the years, we have been maintaining two separate search experiences – “Old Search” and “Primary Search.” 

Old Archive With Drawers

With offering two search experiences, it has limited the resources we could use to make improvements, and also increased the complexity of every improvement we tried to make on the site.

Specifically, the technology powering the “Old Search” functionality is fragile, as much of it is no longer supported, and it can no longer scale to meet the needs of the growing use of Ancestry across mobile devices, operating systems and browsers.

So we’ve consolidated the two systems in order to address customer requests faster and allow us to direct more investment into other areas like adding more record collections and correcting transcriptions on existing collections. Additionally, this consolidated search brings forward and improves the best features of both search experiences.

Many of the features enjoyed in the “Old Search” functionality are now available in the primary search experience, such as searching exact, searching only historical records and more. This Knowledge Base article explains how to get at these features in the primary experience.

Other features included in the consolidated search experience now include:

  • A category + exact mode to make it quicker to do exact searches and see results by category. Learn more about this feature in this Knowledge Base article
  • Tightening up of the spacing in the category view to make it easier to see more of the results
  • A research summary view for searches started from a person in your tree to show you quickly which records you have already attached to your person
  • Smart filtering to which let you hide results from collections where you’ve already found an ancestor’s record
  • Sliding controls to quickly broaden or narrow your search results

That’s just the beginning. We will be continuing to improve our search over this year and have improvements planned in our location data, relevancy, results filtering and more.

We understand some of you may not agree with the decision, but we hope you will come to find as much use as you did from the familiarity of “Old Search” in our consolidated search experience as we continue to improve and invest in it and our data.

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