Ancestry Blog » Ask Ancestry Anne The official blog of Ancestry Wed, 01 Jul 2015 12:05:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ask Ancestry Anne: Can I Trust Trees? Wed, 27 May 2015 18:38:30 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]>

Hello Anne,

I have a question related to using other people’s family trees on Ancestry.  This is an honest question born out of some struggles!

How do you know when and if their information is accurate?  Particularly when you are researching an ancestor that is new for you and the “hints” that are provided are from someone’s family tree.


This question comes up a lot.  You want to approach other people’s trees just like you would approach any record.

Think about a death certificate.  It can contain all sorts of information, such as a death date and location, birth date and location, and parents’ names.  How do you know if that information is correct?  The death date and location are likely to be correct, though not always, as that information was generally recorded close to the event and very likely by someone who was there.  But birth information and parents’ names? They could be right, they could be wrong.  You have to look at who the informant was and how the information compares to other information that you have.

You should evaluate someone else’s tree the same way.  First, what question are you trying to answer?  Maybe you want to know who the children of a person were. Or when the person was born. Or where.

The upcoming site update, which is being rolled out incrementally to our members, offers a new way to look at your sources.  (Note: You may not have seen this yet, but it is coming!  Read more at Sneak Peek of The New Ancestry Website!)

The new presentation makes it a little bit easier to see what the supporting documents for a fact are.

On the tree page, choose Facts.



Then click on the fact that you are evaluating.  If I want to know where the information for the birth date comes from, I can click on Birth.


I see that information came from the 1850, 1870, and 1880 censuses and Find A Grave.  I can click on the record, click VIEW, examine the details, and then view the actual record.   Always look at the supporting evidence!


When determining if the children are correct, look at each child individually.  Start with birth dates and locations.  Do they make sense? What supporting evidence is there?  And even if there isn’t supporting evidence on that tree, don’t assume those names are wrong.  Do some investigation on your own.  Can you find census records, vitals, or probates to support that parent-child relationship?

Don’t look at an entire tree or entry as being right or wrong. First, ask yourself, what question am I trying to answer?  Then look at the entry, see what evidence is available to answer that, and evaluate each piece of evidence on its own.

Go slow, examine everything, and keep looking to find more evidence that confirms or denies.  But don’t avoid trees!  There is some bad information out there, but there is also a whole lot of great research and plenty of documents for you to examine.  A really good genealogist looks at everything.

Happy searching!


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Ask Ancestry Anne: 5 Tips for Researching the Females in Your Tree Fri, 01 May 2015 16:52:19 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> maryWith Mother’s Day right around the corner, it might be a good time to focus on the female side of your tree.  But let’s face it, women can be harder to track because they didn’t leave as many records behind.  I have a few things I try with every female in my tree when I get stuck on maiden names and finding parents:

  1. Search for her married name in other people’s obituaries. You might find her in a sibling’s obituary that has that maiden name you are looking for.  Even if you don’t find the name you are looking for, make sure you research the names in the obituary.  You never know what you might find.
  2. Look at other surnames in the household. When reviewing census records, look for unexpected surnames in the household.  And if you find the family in a city directory, search for other names at the same address to see if you find in-laws or people you didn’t expect.
  3. Look at neighbors, especially right after the wedding. Often after a couple is first married, they don’t move far from home.  Check the families nearby and see if they might be likely candidates for the family of the female you are researching.  Then look to see if she is in the household in the previous census.
  4. Look through local and family histories. Family and local histories are full of names and relationships.  Search for local histories in the county in our card catalog or on the place pages for that state and county.
  5. Check death certificates for all of a woman’s children to see if her maiden name is listed.  The death certificates of her children may hold a clue to the mother’s maiden name.  Also, look at the obituaries of the children.  Some are written with a lot of detail.

Do you have a question that you would like to see answered?  We can’t get to all of them, but send  your question to Ask Ancestry Anne and you might be featured in an upcoming column.

Happy searching!

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Ask Ancestry Anne: Answers 5 DNA Questions Fri, 03 Apr 2015 16:50:11 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> fan chart with DNA hints

We get a lot of questions about DNA.  Here are 5 of the most common and the answers:

1. Is it true that only men can take the test?

AncestryDNA is an autosomal DNA test that tests 22 pairs of Autosomal testing allows you to find family across all lines in your family tree. That means both men and women can take the test, and the results are not limited to just the direct maternal or paternal lines.

2. I’ve done my DNA test and I’ve seen my ethnic breakdown.  Now what?

Check out the information on the history of these regions by clicking on each ethnic region and explore the history of the people your DNA matches. Remember these results can go back 500-1000 years ago.

Start building your tree. And build it wide.  If you work on only one branch you may be missing cousin hints from all those other branches.  And be patient.  You never know when that cousin you need to make a breakthrough will take the test and show up in your hint list!

3. I’ve been told where my ancestors come from, but AncestryDNA tells me something different. How do I know what to believe?

Your family tree stretches back hundreds of years, and AncestryDNA can reach back hundreds, maybe even a thousand years, to tell you things that aren’t in historical records—things you might never have known otherwise.  And if you’ve been told that you were Irish or German or some other background, it may be so far back that those markers didn’t make their way to your DNA.

4. My sister and I have different ethnic percentages. How can that be?

This is actually very common.  You get about 50% of your DNA from your mom and 50% from your dad. But which segments of DNA make up that 50% are completely random, so the odds are actually against you and your sibling getting exactly the same segments of DNA from each parent.  You’ll match as being a very close family connection, but your ethnic breakdowns can, and will, be different.  And you may also connect to different people with DNA hints.  That’s why testing more people is always a good idea!

5. I’ve always been told that I am Native American.  But your DNA test says I’m not.  What gives?

There are a few possibilities.  First, maybe that is simply a family myth. Second, it is possible that your Native American ancestry is far enough back that not enough of it was passed down to you for the test to detect.  If your parent didn’t receive any Native American markers in the 50% of the DNA that came from his parent, then you can’t have it either.  Third, you may come from a Native American ancestry that isn’t being identified by our tests.  Don’t ignore good old-fashioned research.  There is always more than one way to get to an answer.

Happy Searching!

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Ask Ancestry Anne: Where Did My People Come From? Thu, 05 Mar 2015 17:54:45 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> shipFor many of us, knowing where our ancestors came from is a primary goal.  Here are some tips on where you might start looking.

  1. 1850 – 1940 U.S. Census records. Census records list the person’s birthplace; 1880 – 1930 also list parents’ birthplace.  This is obvious place to start looking!  Make sure to check every relevant year – information may vary for any given person.  Also check siblings and cousins for consistencies and other clues.
  2. Check the neighborhood.  Is everyone in the neighborhood on a census from the same place.  That might be a clue as to where your family came from even if your ancestor is listed as being from the U.S.
  3. Death certificates.  Some death certificates ask for parents’ names and places of birth.  Makes sure to look at death certificates for siblings and cousins for the information as well.
  4. Family histories.  Family histories often discuss the origins of the family.  Not every detail may be correct, but they are worth a look.
  5. DNA.  Your DNA won’t tell you which line came from where but it will give you some clues.  And always test your oldest family members to narrow your search.

Ancestry also has lots of great research guides with more information on finding foreign ancestors


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Ask Ancestry Anne: Does My DNA Suggest Native American? Mon, 02 Feb 2015 20:53:51 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Question: Like many African Americans I have gone through my seventy six years believing my family was Native American, in particular Cherokee, so for my birthday I submitted my DNA to Ancestry only to find that I am anything but.   DNA = 73% African, 3% Asian, 23% European, and 1% West Asian.

– Fran

Answer: I recently heard Henry Louis Gates Jr. speak, and he mentioned that African Americans often believe that they are some mix of African and Native American, but it is usually not true.  That said, I suspect your family legends may have some truth in them.

The two percentages that caught my eye are 3% Asian and 1% West Asian.   While your DNA doesn’t match one of the Native American tribes in our test, the Asian here is likely representative of some Native American Ancestry in your heritage.

If this theory is true, it is possible that your Native American ancestry might come from a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th great-grandparent:


But remember, DNA is not handed down evenly like in the table here.  You never know how much you have from each grand parent or the previous generations.

Also remember that in census or other records you might find, Native Americans were sometimes listed as African American especially, if they were of mixed race.

I believe you are likely on the right track.  If you can test a sibling or cousin — or even better someone from an older generation — you might be able to get more data to support this theory.  The answer is out there. Keep searching!



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Ask Ancestry Anne: How Do You Get Kids Involved in Genealogy? Mon, 05 Jan 2015 17:27:16 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Looking for new ways to get the children in your life involved in genealogy?  Are you a Civil War buff?  Or better yet, both?  If so, you might want to check out the Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG) program.

Over 600,000 thousand soldiers died during the Civil War and this inventive program is planting a tree for each and every one of them by working with schools and students.

jthg1Each tree in the this program will be geo-tagged, which will allow visitors to check the website and mobile app to learn exactly where a soldier’s tree is and learn about the soldier it commemorates. The website and mobile app links to the soldier’s memorial page on Fold3. These memorial pages have basic facts about the soldier and users can upload additional information, documents, and photographs.

You can find Fold3 Memorial Pages such as this one for William Nanney who died August 2, 1862 in Petersburg, Virginia. You can also look up the location of his tree on the Living Legacy Map.jthg2

JTHG, Ancestry, and Fold3 are working with teachers to help them incorporate researching the lives of the Civil War fallen into their curriculum. For more information about this program, visit the Journey Through Hallowed Ground website.  If you are interested in learning more about a grant for Ancestry and Fold3 in your favorite child’s classroom, visit our Ancestry K12 site.



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Ask Ancestry Anne: Where Is My Native American DNA? Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:15:02 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> inheritance 50_50

DNA Inheritance


Question: I recently had my DNA analyzed and was surprised when the results did not show any evidence of my Cherokee connection.

My great-great-grandmother was one-fourth Cherokee (Tiptendille Tribe-TN). Would the traces of the Native American heritage be so minute that they would not be evident anymore?

– Shauna


Answer: The short answer is yes, the traces of Native American DNA in your test may be too small to detect.  Let’s look at why.

If your great-great-grandmother was ¼ Cherokee, then it was her grandparent that was 100% Native American. And that would be your 4th-great-grandparent. Now your great-great-grandmother would get 50% of her DNA from her mother and 50% from her father. To make this easy, let’s divide by 2 for every generation.

dna percentage1

So how much of your great-great-grandmother’s DNA are you likely to have?  Probably around 1.5625%! And that may not be enough to detect Native American ethnicity.

dna percentage2

If you can find older generations on that line to test, I recommend that.  Also, get brothers, sisters and cousins tested.  You never know who might have enough DNA to be detected.

Even if you find the DNA connection, you will still want to follow the paper trail.  I recommend our Native American Research Guide to get you started.

Happy searching!

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Ancestry Weekly Roundup: November 3rd Edition Mon, 03 Nov 2014 14:47:10 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Blog Posts
Poster by the Burlington & Missouri River R. R. Co. advertising land in Iowa and Nebraska, 1872. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Poster by the Burlington & Missouri River R. R. Co. advertising land in Iowa and Nebraska, 1872. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.



Five-Minute Finds:

From the Barefoot Genealogist:

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Ask Ancestry Anne: How Can I Share My Family Tree in an Interesting Way? Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:22:18 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Question: How can I transfer my information from my family tree to some sort of hard copy, such as a computer printer copy ?  I would like to make copies for family members.

Answer: Printing your tree out is possible from a program like Family Tree Maker, but I suggest you go with something with a little more pizzazz.

MyCanvas, an Ancestry tool, provides multiple ways for you to create a beautiful family history book or family tree posters which can make sharing fun and enjoyable for everyone.

Juliana Szucs has created a Five Minute Find: Creating a MyCanvas Poster to get you started. Or if you have a little more time to spend, check out Using MyCanvas to Make Descendant Family History Books and Posters and Using MyCanvas to Print and Share Your Family Stories on our Webinars page.

You can also easily share your project — click on the Share this project link, enter an email address, write a personal message, and send  an invitation to view your project.

You will find the Share this project link on the My Projects page,  under the name of the project you want to share. Then click on “Email to a friend” in the drop down menu.

MyCanvas 2

The invitee will get an email to view your project. They will not be able to make any changes to your project, but they can view and order it a hard copy if they choose.

When they receive the invitation, they will see something like:

MyCanvas 1


You may also allow your invitee to save a copy of the project to their own account. They will be able to edit their copy, but their edits will not change your copy of the project.

MyCanvas is a wonderful way to preserve and share your family history, photos, and stories. This Share feature enables you to easily share your work with others, even when they don’t live close by.



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Ancestry Weekly Roundup: October 27th Edition Mon, 27 Oct 2014 16:43:26 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> Blog Posts



Between The Leaves
From the Barefoot Genealogist:
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