Using Ancestry: Public Profiles, by Juliana Smith

Juliana Profile.bmpSome 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 I’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, it’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.

What’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, I’ve opted to share mainly information related to my research interests. You can also post your photograph. The photo I’ve chosen isn’t current, but rather, it’s my favorite baby picture. (If you want a good laugh, I posted it with last week’s quote. Click on the image to enlarge it.) For those of you who know me, you’ll note that my personality hasn’t changed much over the years, although thankfully I’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. I’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 you’ve added your interests, others will be able to find you more easily. Secondly, when you go to the Community tab on Ancestry, you’ll begin to see lists of other members whose profiles are similar to yours. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) You’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 you’ve opted to make public are linked to your member profile. If someone runs across a post you’ve made on a message board, or a comment you’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 you’ve posted to the Ancestry/RootsWeb message boards, links to posts you’ve made are included, as well as boards you’ve flagged as favorites and boards you administer.

~ Recently Added Content
Images of records or photos you’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 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.
Site Preferences
If you want to maintain your privacy, click on “My Site Preferences” 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 you’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 you’ve posted or added to Ancestry. The “My Site Preferences” page also includes a link to a more detailed “Public Profile Preferences” 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 you’d like to see my entire profile, click here.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

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, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

12 thoughts on “Using Ancestry: Public Profiles, by Juliana Smith

  1. Hmmm.. I don’t see any mention of the fact that ancestry will be charging your relatives to contact you.

  2. In the paragraph with the heading, “Updating Your Public Profile” I wrote:

    (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.)

    And you can also choose to make your e-mail public, in which case you won’t have to use the Connection Service.

    Happy Father’s Day!

  3. I checked out my profile and found a lot of interesting leads, based on my searches and boards. But as soon as I entered a Research Interest, all of the leads vanished! I guess Ancestry puts them there as a default. Is there any way to get them back?

  4. How true it is. I live in New England, yet I found cousins in Idaho, Florida, South Carolina and France. These contacts provided me with priceless pictures and a treasure-load of stories, as well providing another generation. They were just as pleased to receive what I had to share. It was just as much fun to find another cousin.

    Just recently, an Uncle came across a family bible he forgot aabout that was given to him 50 years ago. The bible tells to whom it was passed to over the years. How blessed am I he choose to hand it over to me.

    Thank you ancestry. I could never have built my wonderful family tree without you. I never knew how rich my history was.

  5. Thanks for the info. I went online and updated my research information. Maybe someone will find me.

  6. Thank you for the information. I will be making some changes on my profile and uploading one of my childhood photos. Since I’ve been a member for about two years, I am now receiving contact emails from distant relatives and have been able to add some more twigs to my trees.

  7. One of my main complaints (and this may be the wrong forum to list it) is that with all this openess and sharing, people are not doing fact checking and are copying others wrong information. Then I get the little green leaves on my family tree that are all based on erroneous information from other’s lines. Very frustrating. needs to somehow stress that people need to do their research and not copy other’s info without knowing if there is data to back it up.
    Thank you for being able to sound off!

  8. These contacts provided me with priceless pictures and a treasure load of stories as well providing another generation.It was just as much fun to find another cousin.people are diffrentview of each factor.
    asher smtih
    Wide Circles

  9. Well its good to that one site is there from where any one can be fought out.Thanks for the info. I went online and updated my research information. Maybe someone will find me.



    Wide Circles

  10. I am a new visitor of this site. It is very nice site. This article says about the importance of family. Family is very important to our life. But today anyone give no attention to his family. The result will be the lost of family relations. This blog says we can find the all family members with the help of family tree. It is very easy way to understand the relations between everyone.



    Wide Circles

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