Blog » Member Connect The official blog of Tue, 23 Sep 2014 14:46:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ask Ancestry Anne: My Ancestor Moved Around a Lot and Didn’t Leave Many Records — Now What? Mon, 28 Oct 2013 01:03:19 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Question: I have been researching my paternal grandfather for many years without luck.  He was born Edward James Wilson, to parents James Joseph Wilson and Eliza Jane Young (Irish) on 29 August 1887, New York City.  He also used alias names – Frederick and Ernest.  On his enlistment in the Canadian army he stated his father lived in Wolzey, New York, but I wrote the U.S. Post Office and they confirmed no place ever existed.  He told my father he was raised in Ontario and we can confirm he homesteaded in the Neidpath area, southeast of Swift Current, Saskatchewan.  He also supposedly lived in Fosston, Minnesota, and said he was an early photographer for nature magazines in the early 1900s.  I have looked everywhere in Canada, New York, and Minnesota without any luck.

How do I go about conducting a search when there are so many geographical areas?
Sharon Robb

Answer: You grandfather is quite the elusive one, isn’t he?

Six things I recommend:

  1. Review all the records you have. You have probably been collecting information about your grandfather for a while now.  Gather all the records and information you have and go through each one looking for information you might have missed.image03
  2. Phonetic spellings. When it comes to place names or surnames, say the name out loud and try and spell it phonetically.  Wolzey, maybe could have been Woolsey?  There is a post office in Astoria, New York named Woolsey Station.  Then again your father may have remembered incorrectly.  Don’t assume any statement on any document has to be true.
  3. image02Name and place timeline. Create a timeline listing dates and best known places for your grandfather.  Then you can start searching not just for vital records (that may not exist), but family and local histories, church records and newspapers that may have clues on your grandfather.  Creating Timelines to Better Understand Records and Families has some pointers on how to do that.
  4. Search one place at a time. Once you have your timeline you can start searching specific areas in that time.  Make sure that you understand how to use place filters in our search forms.  Five Minute Find: Location, Location, Location will get you started.
  5. Get out the FAN club. Elizabeth Shown Mills identifies a FAN club as a person’s friends, associates and neighbors.  If you can’t find someone by tracing them or even their brothers and sisters, then start tracing their FANs.  People very often moved in groups and this may lead to you to clues about your grandfather.  Read more in Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Quick Lesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle.
  6. What question are you trying to answer? Don’t just look for records.  Decide what question you are trying to answer.  Where was Edward James Wilson in 1930? Who were his brothers and sisters? Where did he die? Then ask yourself what types of records would help me find this information.  Look at our place pages for a list of data collections about a specific area, such as Minnesota and Canada for your grandfather.  When you focus on a specific question and look for records to answer that question, you are much more likely to be successful.

Sometimes genealogy makes you want to bang your head against that brick wall.  Keep at it. Show what you have to others.  You never know who might see something you don’t.  And Good luck!

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

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Lessons in Genealogy Collaboration Thu, 14 Mar 2013 03:16:46 +0000 Crista Cowan Read more]]> I got an Message today from a woman related to a man in my family tree.  In her research she had come to a conclusion regarding the identity of his wife that was different from mine.


When was the last time you read and responded to your messages?


Of course, my first reaction was an internal roll of the eyes and the arrogant thought that I would educate her about how to do real genealogy research.  I immediately navigated to the man in question in my family tree.  As I began to review my research notes so I could craft a response to her (and I make extensive notes in Family Tree Maker on every person I research), I had the fleeting thought that maybe I shouldn’t have made my family tree public because clearly this woman didn’t know what she was doing and she was probably going to attach someone from my tree to someone in her tree when it was obvious that they were not the same person.

As I read my notes my ego quickly deflated to an appropriate level.

Several years ago I was searching for the husband and children of Thelda M Jones.  I knew she was enumerated in the 1910 census with her parents as a ten year old child.  She was not enumerated with them, her older brother or any other known family members in the 1920 census.  My assumption was that she married sometime between 1916 and 1920.

I knew from her father’s obituary that my Thelda married a man named Cecil Christian sometime before 1936.  I wasn’t able to locate a marriage record for Cecil and Thelda but I was able to locate Cecil in the 1920 census with his first wife.  So, where was Thelda in 1920?  Did she have a first husband?

I searched in vain for a marriage record.  I searched the 1920 census for all women named Thelda, born about 1900 in Utah.  Only two came up.  I was able to exclude one of them by tracing her to her death and finding an obituary that listed her parents’ names.  That left one possibility.

So, I added this man and these children to my family tree with a note that I needed to find a marriage record, an obituary, or further documentation to support that this Thelda and my Thelda were one and the same.

Then, as often happens, my research on that branch of the family got side-tracked.  For four years.

I made my family tree public (warts and all) a few months ago so that I could more readily connect with DNA matches.  But, in that time I have received messages from many more people than just those biological cousins.  Including this one.  As I re-read the message from this woman there were a few things that stood out to me.

She explained what she believed to be the truth about this man and his family.  She referenced the exact records she used to come to this conclusion.  She very specifically pointed out the discrepancies between our two trees.  She then said this, “I can’t see the actual documentation that you have in your tree… I am just wondering if I could find out a little more about the records that support your tree…  Thanks for any direction you can give here, I would appreciate it.”  She concluded with directions for how to find her public tree so I could view it for myself.

Between the records that she had attached to her tree and the previous research I had done on this family, I was able to conclude for myself that the Thelda in her tree and the Thelda in my tree were two different women.  I corrected my tree and sent this woman a thank you note for bringing this to my attention.

There are several things I re-learned today because of this experience.  Here are just a few lessons I hope you’ll consider:

  1. Reach out to others who may or may not have accurate information in their online trees.  Be nice!
  2. Not everyone approaches genealogy research the same way you do but we can all do it better if we work together.
  3. Keep good notes. It will help you keep your sanity and keep you from having to redo research.

Anything else you learned?

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Genealogy Goals: 3rd Quarter Report Fri, 07 Sep 2012 23:04:42 +0000 Crista Cowan Read more]]> We are headed into the last few months of 2012.  Kids are headed back to school.  Fall is in the air.  And I thought it was a good time to revisit our goals for the year.  If you remember, I shared mine at the beginning of the year.  Some of you shared yours in the comments.

Setting goals provides focus.  And, if anything needs focus, it’s genealogy.  It is so easy – and sometimes fun – to get distracted as we chase down various branches of the family tree.  Reporting on goals you have set provides accountability and keeps you moving forward.  So here is my report:


1. Backup, Backup, Backup

I now use Family Tree Maker 2012 for all my genealogy files.  My main family tree is now synced with my online tree at  This provides one backup.  At the beginning of the year I set a reminder on my calendar to back up my tree to “the cloud” twice a month.  I have done this faithfully.

What haven’t I done yet?  I haven’t given my parents a copy of my files at all this year.  I think I will send them a link right now so they have access to my cloud backup.


2. Get More Family Members Involved

In June I did a Barefoot Genealogist episode and wrote a blog post about sharing your family history.  I have two specific projects (with deadlines) in the works.  I am creating a slideshow of digitized family pictures for my grandmother’s 90th birthday later this month.  And, I have created a maternal only family tree for my cousin who is having a little girl in a few weeks.

I have also created a few more ancestor pages on Facebook, connected with some (previously unknown to me) cousins, and tried to share family stories more often.  I have a lot more ideas brewing but maybe they will make good 2013 goals.


3. Digitize, Digitize, Digitize

After much sorting, my mom took over 1500 slides (from both sets of grandparents) to be digitized.  She has the original DVDs that were created.  We copied them to my computer and also backed them up to the cloud.  I’ve spent the last few months meeting with family members – dad, grandma, great-aunt – to make sure I know who everyone is in each of these old pictures.  Now, we just have to share them with the rest of the family.


4. Make Sure Everything Has A Source

This is probably the goal I have spent the most time working on this year.  I knew it was a huge task.  Sometimes I feel like it will never be done.  However, because I have been working on this, I have pruned over 1200 people out of the family tree over the last few months. I discovered two different branches were there was no documentation to prove a connection and a third where documenting what I had, proved that the connection was wrong.  I think this goal may stay on the list for many years to come.

For those who will ask, I use the notes feature in Family Tree Maker pretty heavily as I work on proving connections in my family tree.  Ancestry Anne has created a couple of videos on sourcing that have helped as well.  You can find them here and here.


5. Respond to Messages

I set a goal at the beginning of the year to spend a little time every Friday going through message I receive from other members. I haven’t done that as consistently as I expected.  I have managed to get through most of the backlog of messages.  The problem? I find that when I start to reply to one message I dig into the family they’ve asked about and I’m off doing more research for hours on end.  I need to learn to reply with what I know and not worry about what I don’t know yet.  Any advice on how to do that?


So, there you have it – my update on my 2012 genealogy goals.  I have a few more things to work on and a few more months left in the year.  That works out well.

For those of you who set goals with me at the beginning of the year, how are you doing?

For those of you who didn’t, it’s not too late.  What would you like to accomplish – genealogically speaking – in the next four months?

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Family Tree Maker: The Web Dashboard Mon, 15 Nov 2010 15:00:08 +0000 Tana L. Pedersen Read more]]> When you’re online Family Tree Maker connects directly to so you can take advantage of the website’s valuable genealogy resources without ever leaving the software. One of these resources is the Web Dashboard. In versions 2010 and 2011 it gives you quick access to your subscription; you can log in to your account, view your subscription expiration date, and access your Ancestry Member Trees. The Dashboard can also display a live news feed that tells you the latest news from and Family Tree Maker.

To view the Web Dashboard, go to the Plan workspace. You can click the Options link to select what types of information will appear and how often the data will be refreshed.

And new in 2011, the Dashboard contains Member Connect activity, links to message boards, and notification of new Ancestry messages. Simply click the link to access the record or message on

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Winner chosen for the Ultimate Family History Journey™ Sweepstakes Thu, 17 Jun 2010 19:32:34 +0000 Heather Erickson Read more]]> Every genealogist remembers the moment when they were bit by the genealogy bug, when they broke through one of their brick walls, or when they won $20,000 for their very own personal family history journey.

Well… I don’t remember the latter happening to me either, but Carolyn S. from Youngstown, Ohio does.

That’s because Carolyn is the Grand Prize winner of the Ultimate Family History Journey™ Sweepstakes that took place earlier this year. As the Grand Prize winner, Carolyn was awarded $20,000 in travel money, an 8 hour consultation with an expert genealogist, help from up to 5 experts in the fields relevant to her family history, an annual World Deluxe Subscription for herself and 5 more World Deluxe Subscriptions for her family.

For those of you that didn’t know about the sweepstakes, we awarded one lucky winner the Grand Prize and twenty entrants a World Deluxe subscription. We had more than 850,000 entrants, but Carolyn was the fortunate one to win the $20,000 in travel money to put towards her  ultimate family history journey.

We had a chance to talk with Carolyn about her family history story and find out her plans for her own family history journey.

Carolyn started researching her family history full-time in November of 2009. You may think she is new to family history, but this genealogist is no novice. Carolyn spends nearly 10 hours a day working on her family history and has already added more than 800 ancestors to her family tree.

Of all of the stories and history she has discovered, she says the greatest thing she has done so far is to uncover details about her grandparents.

“We were a very close family growing up – my parents and siblings. My grandparents died when I was two years old and we never talked about family outside of ourselves. To me there are a lot of family mysteries,” she said. “In fact, when I started, everyone thought my one grandfather’s name was George and it wasn’t. It was James.”

Through Member Connect on Carolyn was able to reach out and find new cousins who had more information about her grandparents. It was those cousins that sent her photos, stories and memories of her grandparents. Until that moment, Carolyn only had pictures of her grandparents in their old age.

“They sent pictures to me of my grandparents when they were young,” Carolyn reminisced. “When I saw them as young people, my connection to them became so much stronger.”

Carolyn attributes her love of family history to the desires she always had to know her grandparents better. She hopes to use the genealogy experts to break down some of her family history walls, including information about her father’s brother who the family never knew.

“I also want to find my great-great-grandfather or grandmother on both sides,” Carolyn said. “But it’s hard when everyone in the family has the name James.”

Her great-great-grandparents are from Ireland and Wales and Carolyn hopes to uncover details about this side of her family.

“I always thought Ireland would be a great place to visit, never thinking that something like this would ever happen. If I go to Ireland, I’ll have to go to Wales too,” she said.

Carolyn’s winnings are something that many of us will only be able to dream about in our lifetime. Yet we are so excited that she’ll be able to take this journey and uncover the mysteries in her family.

$20,000 is a lot of cash to use on an ultimate family history journey. What would you want to discover if you had won the grand prize?

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Dreaming in Seattle Tue, 25 May 2010 00:11:03 +0000 Jeanie Croasmun Read more]]> Call me a dreamer but I think I may be an heir to the city of Seattle.

Okay, not really, not even close. But I did find out that a semi-distant branch of my family tree helped settle King County, Washington. That’s exciting for me, considering all I ever hoped to discover is that my surname is something more than a misspelling.

What’s even better is how I learned about my Seattle connection – from another member of who saw a familiar name in my family tree (for the sake of full disclosure, it’s not the misspelled line). To make a long story short, this person gave me the contact info for the family’s historian, who was said to have all the details. On a whim, I contacted her; she quickly told me the details about how the family links to the history of the Pacific Northwest and places beyond.

Now my summer goal is to trace my own family line back to this respectable one. True, I probably could have just asked the family historian, but I want to discover the details for myself before I take her up on her offer of a tour of family history hotspots in and around Seattle. (It’s feeling great to be connected.)

I’m also planning to go back through the Member Connect activity notifications I keep thinking I’m too busy to review (they’re listed on the Collaborate tab). I know there’s at least one notification there that pertains to my misspelled family line. Maybe the person who saved that record also has some insight about the original poor speller in the family as well as why no one ever bothered to fix his or her mistake.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

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RSS Feed For Your Member Connect Activity Wed, 03 Feb 2010 15:36:11 +0000 Stephanie Cruz Read more]]> We recently introduced an RSS feed for your Member Connect Activity so that you can receive updates even when you’re not on If you use an RSS reader, this is a great way to easily check your latest Member Connect Activity alongside your other favorite news (learn more about RSS here).

The RSS feed is available from the Recent Member Connect Activity page. You can subscribe to the RSS feed in 3 easy steps:

  1. Click on the “See more activity” link in the Recent Member Connect Activity on your homepage or click on “Recent Member Connect Activity” in the sub menu under the Collaborate main navigation (these links take you to the same page).

  2. At the bottom of the right column on the Recent Member Connect Activity page, you’ll find a link to subscribe to the RSS feed.

  3. When you click on the link, you will navigate to the RSS feed (XML) page. There are two ways to subscribe to the RSS feed. If your browser supports this, you can click on the “subscribe” link/button at the top of the page to add the RSS feed to your RSS reader. Otherwise, you can manually subscribe to the RSS feed by copying and pasting the URL from your web browser address bar into your RSS reader.
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New iPhone Application Gives Access to Your Tree on the Go Wed, 20 Jan 2010 01:33:45 +0000 Heather Erickson Read more]]> You asked for an iPhone® application that gives you access to your tree, and we heard you loud and clear.  I’m excited to announce that we have launched the Tree To Go iPhone app.

Whether you’re scouring the research library or getting together to share family stories with relatives, you’ll never miss a chance to add to your family tree with this handy app. Log in to your account from anywhere to access your tree, edit information, upload photos — even add a long-lost family member you find on your way. You never know where or when you’ll discover something to help you grow your family tree.

With this helpful mobile tree tool, you can see all the family trees you’ve already created on Just download the app to your iPhone or iPod® Touch, log in to your account and choose a family tree.

  • You can browse names in your tree
  • Search for a specific person in your tree
  • Click on a relative to view, then edit or add vital information, immediate family members, life events, notes or new ancestors.
  • Take photos of your relatives, historical documents, keepsakes,  buildings and more and upload them directly to your tree.

Just discovered a treasure trove of family heirlooms at your second cousin’s house? Take pictures and upload them to your tree with stories about each one. Found a forgotten family member’s headstone as you traverse an 18th century cemetery? Add this new person and upload an image of their gravesite. Now when you’re on the go, your family tree — and all your history — goes with you.

For more details about the new Tree To Go iPhone app visit, or download the Trees To Go directly from the iTunes App Store.

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Former Friends Reunite After 34 Years Mon, 16 Nov 2009 19:38:10 +0000 Read more]]> Most of you have probably seen the video clips on our site highlighting the success stories of a few of our members. There is a video about Cathryn Darling, who thought her father had abandoned her as a child only to find out through research on that he was killed in a tragic fishing accident. There is also Jim Lane, whose father had never seen a picture of his own mother. Jim was able to show him her picture for the first time thanks to some connections he made on

And there is the story of Cary Christopher, who thought his great-grandfather was a German soldier during WWI but found out he was actually an American naval hero.

Well, recently we had a follow-up to Cary’s story that made it even more interesting. After we put the clip of Cary telling his story on, we were contacted by one of Cary’s old friends and shipmates from Cary’s own time serving in the Navy.

Owen, Cary’s former shipmate, was also a member of and his wife saw Cary’s video while doing some research on

According to Owen, he was reading the paper in one room when he heard his wife yell from the other, “It’s him. Honey, it’s him!”

“Who?” Owen yelled back.


“Chris who?”

“You know—him!”

When Owen finally figured out who she was talking about, he was ecstatic. He contacted us to see if we could put him in touch with Cary.

We took down Owen’s information and passed it on to Cary, in case he wanted to contact Owen. He did, and the two had a fun time connecting after so many years apart. They spent several hours on the phone catching up.

I love these kinds of connections because they just go to show you how doing your family history has a domino effect–one connection leads to another, which leads to another, and so on. Who knew when Cary made the discovery on about his great-grandfather that it would help him reconnect with a former friend and crew member from his own life?

You can read the rest of the story about Cary and Owen’s reunion in the Learning Center. Plus, you can get some tips on how to make your own connections with family–past and present.

Note: This article was originally published in the November Ancestry Monthly Update.

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Enhancements to Member Connect Fri, 23 Oct 2009 20:09:07 +0000 jhodnett Read more]]> At the end of July we launched our new Member Connect feature on  Since then we have been gathering feedback from members, analyzing how it has been used, and working to continue to improve it.  I wanted to review some enhancements that were added to Member Connect yesterday, as well as highlight a few of the other improvements we’ve added in the last couple months.

Yesterday we made a number of additions to make it easier to get to the information you are most interested in on the Recent Member Connect Activity list.  If there has been activity from other members on that is directly related to your own research activity, you’ll find this activity list on your homepage when you are logged in, as well as on the main page under the Collaborate tab.  Here’s what we’ve added to that list:


1. Recent Activity filter options


We’ve made a number of changes around how you can filter out activity from your Recent Activity list.

First, if you have multiple family trees on you can choose to filter out the activity for any of your trees.  For example, you might be invited as an editor to a tree, but not be interested in all of the activity related to that tree.  If that’s the case, you can simply un-check the box for that tree and we won’t show you that activity anymore.

Second, based on member feedback we’ve updated the types of activity your can filter out of your list.  We hope that the new categories make it easier to get to the activity you are most interested in, especially if you have a lot of activity on your list.

Third, we will now remember your filter settings for you.  So if you filter one of your trees out of the list, or a specific activity type you’re not interested in, we’ll keep that activity off of your list until you choose to re-check the boxes to add it back in.

Finally, we’ve made these filter options available from the Member Connect sections on the homepage and under the Collaborate tab, as well as on the full Recent Activity page.


2. Top daily activity items


Some members who have done a lot of research on, or who have large family trees on the site, may have a lot of activity included on their Recent Activity list each day.  If this is the case for you, we’ve made an update that we hope will help.  If there are more than 10 activity items related to your family history research on a given day, we will initially just list the top ten items from that day on your list.  Hopefully this gets the most interesting items at the top for you.  Then if you would like to see more activity from that day you can simply expand the list for the day to see the rest of the activity items.


3. Expanded activity display


Sometimes if a few similar things happen on the site, we may only list one item on your Recent Activity list.  For example, if another member researching your great-grandfather added three photos of him to their public family tree, you might get one activity item mentioning that three photos were added, but without giving details on each of them.  For activity items like this there will now be a new “show” link that will let you expand the activity item to see all of the details related to that item.


We’ve also made a number of other enhancements to Member Connect in the last couple months.  I just wanted to highlight a few of them for you here:


1. Links to your family tree from trees you have connected with


You can connect with another member who has common ancestors of yours in their family tree, either by saving information from their tree through an Hint or through the Member Connect section of the profile page for the matching person in your tree.  If you’ve done this and later go to the matching person in the other member’s tree, we will confirm that you’ve already connected with them and will include a link for you back to the matching person in your tree.  This helps you keep track of who you’ve connected with, and also makes it easier to get back to your tree when you are checking family trees of members you’ve connected with.


2. Explanations about information in your Recent Activity list


Some information included on your Recent Activity list may be related to research you did a while back rather than more recent research that is fresh in your mind.  If that is the case, you may not be sure why a specific item is on your list.  To learn more just put your cursor over the activity item and you will see a “?” icon on the right.  Simply click this to learn why the item was included in your list.  We’ll also often be able to provide a link for you to the related person in your family tree.

3. Information you’ve ignored from members you have connected with


Within your family tree, Member Connect lets you compare what information other members have about one of your family members with what you have.  If you’ve connected to the other member, after checking into their information and validating it you can also update your tree with the new information.  If the information doesn’t seem accurate or interesting, though, you can also select to ignore it.  Previously we didn’t label which items you have ignored from another member’s tree.  Now these items will have a simple “ignored” button, which will still let you update your tree with this information if you change your mind later.


These are just a few highlights of improvements we’ve made based, in large part on feedback from our members.  We’d love to continue to get your feedback about Member Connect so that we know how we can continue to improve it for you.  Please just email us at with your thoughts.

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