Some of the biggest family history breakthroughs are the direct result of connecting with a long-lost cousin who is working on the same family line. Not only is it great to reconnect with family members with whom you have lost touch throughout the years, but you never know what gems may have been passed down through their branches of the family tree. (One of these days Iâ€™m going to find someone who inherited the family Bible!) Plus, if your newfound cousin lives closer to the location where your research is centered or near a major genealogical facility, you may find a new partner for on-site research.
With all this at stake, itâ€™s no surprise that since genealogy collided with the personal computer, tools that help connect family historians who share research interests have been a mainstay. Message boards, research registries, and online trees are all products of the desire to connect with others. Ancestry hosts all of these services, as well as the ability to post comments to many of the historical records found in its collections.
The recently-updated free Public Member Profile brings these elements together so that anyone who runs across one of the many breadcrumbs you have left on the site can–with a click–see if your research interests match their own. These breadcrumbs could be in the form of a post to a message board, a comment posted to a record, a profile in the Member Directory, or through your online tree.
Whatâ€™s in a Public Member Profile?
~ Personal Info
You can choose how much or how little you want to reveal about yourself. In my profile, Iâ€™ve opted to share mainly information related to my research interests. You can also post your photograph. The photo Iâ€™ve chosen isnâ€™t current, but rather, itâ€™s my favorite baby picture. (If you want a good laugh, I posted it with last weekâ€™s quote.Â Click on the image to enlarge it.) For those of you who know me, youâ€™ll note that my personality hasnâ€™t changed much over the years, although thankfully Iâ€™ve been able to tame that wispy bit of hair on top of my head.
The profile also lets you add information about your experience in family history, display links to your homepage or blog, and share some of your favorite websites.
~ Research Interests
This is where the fun begins. You can add surnames, dates, and locations you are researching. There is also a Comments field where you can add more information regarding that surname. Iâ€™ve used it to add name variants and related surnames–basically anything that will help another user to identify (or rule out) a connection.
The benefits of adding your research interests are two-fold. First, once youâ€™ve added your interests, others will be able to find you more easily. Secondly, when you go to the Community tab on Ancestry, youâ€™ll begin to see lists of other members whose profiles are similar to yours. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) Youâ€™ll want to revisit this page periodically because as new profiles are created, you may find more researchers with similar interests popping up.
~ Member Trees
Any trees youâ€™ve opted to make public are linked to your member profile. If someone runs across a post youâ€™ve made on a message board, or a comment youâ€™ve added to the record of one of your ancestors, they can explore your public tree and see if they want to contact you through your Public Member Profile.
~ Message Boards
If youâ€™ve posted to the Ancestry/RootsWeb message boards, links to posts youâ€™ve made are included, as well as boards youâ€™ve flagged as favorites and boards you administer.
~ Recently Added Content
Images of records or photos youâ€™ve recently added to your public member trees are also displayed on your profile. (Note: Only records and images added to people who are deceased are displayed. As with your online tree, information about people who appear to be living will not be displayed.)
Updating Your Public Profile
To update your Public Profile, simple log in to Ancestry.com and click on the Community tab. In the upper-right corner you should see a link to edit your member profile. (Note: You do not have to be an Ancestry subscriber to have a profile; however, you need a subscription to contact someone through the anonymous Ancestry Connection Service.)
To update portions of your profile, click on the pencil icons to edit your information. When you are finished, you can click on the yellow bar above your user name and photo to see how your profile will appear for other users.
If you want to maintain your privacy, click on â€œMy Site Preferencesâ€ on the Community tab (in the upper-right corner of the page, just below the navigation bar). From there you can opt to have others contact you through the anonymous Ancestry Connection Service or make your e-mail address public. The Ancestry Connection Service is a kind of firewall between you and those who try to connect with you. Users will only be able to see the information that you have entered and for which youâ€™ve allowed access, but not your e-mail address. Your communications all go through Ancestry. (More on this can be found in the Ancestry Help files.)
You can also choose whether or not other users can view information youâ€™ve posted or added to Ancestry. The â€œMy Site Preferencesâ€ page also includes a link to a more detailed â€œPublic Profile Preferencesâ€ page where you can opt out of displaying your message board posts, favorite message boards, public member trees, or recently added content.
To Sum Up
Updating my profile was actually kind of fun and gave me a chance to review some of my family information. Now I need to get out there and finish updating my research interests. I know there has to be a family Bible out there somewhere! I just need to connect with the right cousin to find it.
If youâ€™d like to see my entire profile, click here.
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for ten years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.