Posted by Dan Lawyer on April 17, 2015 in Site Features, Website

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.

 

LifeStory-16-Apr-2015

 

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.

 

Historical-Insight-1-16-Apr-2015

Historical-Insight-3-16-Apr-2015

 

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.

 

LifeStory-Edit-16-Apr-2015

 

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.

Dan Lawyer

Dan Lawyer is a Senior Director of Product at Ancestry and oversees product efforts for portions of the website. Lawyer is an expert in business strategy, execution, and product management. He has more than 20 years of experience delivering solutions across social, web, mobile, SaaS, and traditional software environments in both business and consumer focused markets. He has filled various technology and marketing leadership roles at WordPerfect, Fibernet, Novell, FamilySearch, and FamilyLink. Prior to joining Ancestry, Dan headed up business and product operations for Adobe’s Analytics and Social businesses. Dan loves working on his own family history and inventing ways to make doing family history easier.

25 Comments

  1. Debra MacCallister

    I think this is a great idea. I’ve thought of making a book for some of my more exciting stories. This would be a great place to start.

  2. Mary DeLara

    I have been working with the “New Ancestry” Beta website for a few weeks. I submitted a lengthy email about problems that have come up on my tree. I’ll not go into details here other than to say that the program Ancestry is using to identify locations doesn’t recognize that Louisiana has parishes, not counties. I have a lot of Louisiana people on my tree and changing the word “County” to “Parish” every time it is used is not how I wish to spend my time. I hope Ancestry is addressing this issue.

    • Dan Lawyer

      @Mary DeLara. I know the team has received the message you mentioned about parishes vs counties in Louisiana. I’ll see if I can get an update.

  3. DannieB

    I’m really sorry that so much apparent money and time has been spent on the new LifeStory item.

    It is, IMO, a useless and worthless add. And to make it the default, so I have to get around it, when I try use Beta, is really annoying.

    I’ve created Family History Albums for my descendants. What is in the LifeStory would not even be an acceptable starting point.

  4. Karen

    I have been using Beta for several weeks now. So many necessary features are missing. To accomplish anything takes sooooo many more clicks. The “Lifestory” is terrible. So many dumb additions. Some are down-right insulting to our ancestors. What a waste of resources. Just make the existing site work better & quit trying to make Ancestry a social media site!

  5. Karen Maple-Stover

    I just had to take a break and let you know that growing up family did not talk about stories or family history whatsoever!! I grew up thinking part of the time, Am I an orphan, have I been adopted and no one will bring this up and tell me! Well…I am LDS…and I have been so very blessed. I have three straight up…connections to three Kings. Who Knew…And why wasn’t this passed down to all of us! It is not the position that these men were in, that is the greatest find…but it is the spirit and stories I am finding and what they believed in and fought to keep their spiritual beliefs. I am still sometimes saying…ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THIS? The three families are Howard, my grandmother…Howards that were Duke’s and so on to Catherine Howard that was married to King Henry VIII who died in 1542 in the Tower of London, she was executed; Conaway, my great grandmother; and Thomas Conaway married Sarah Dew decendant of Roderick the Great of all Wales. My 5th grt grandfather all the way up to Robert the Bruce King of Scotland. I am thankful and so surprised. Sure did take away all the past thoughts of not knowing my family history! Need more information, photo’s and stories! What blessings and good thoughts you give to a lot of people all over the world.

  6. Mary DeLara

    My “new” family tree still has counties in Louisiana. Don’t want to show it to anybody. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I wrote “counties” in Louisiana. Too many mistakes on my tree. Not my fault.

  7. Marla Kirby

    Please keep Ancestry as it is. Just make it better at searching. I get search results in England, when no one in the family has been in England.

  8. Diane

    Not sure I’d use the new Life-Story. I like the thrill of figuring out the puzzles and unraveling the mysteries . I add my own maps and screen shots but don’t want more options of stuff I don’t need. We all have limited time to search, so we want quick, efficient and spot on searches. Many times I have to go to familysearch to find someone on a census because Ancestry’s census has been so poorly transcribed. THESE are the things we need and care about. We don’t need shiny new objects, just more specific records and a good search tool. THANKS

  9. Glenda

    I love the stories of the events and happens of the times during our ancestors lives. I do need more defined searches. Am I missing some of the search features?

  10. Peggy

    I also do not care about the life stories feature, every thing in my tree is about their life story. Ancestry search needs to be adjusted. Bring back the OLD search and I’ll be happy.

  11. Rachel

    It took me a bit to get used to the Beta version but I LOVE IT. I had some of the same problems discussed above, especially maps but revamping a program takes LOTS of work and trial and error. No one can ever anticipate every little thing that might need to be tweaked, it’s s time thing. (Remember every new version of WIndows?! and all the subsequent fixes, LOL) I personally really like the “Life Story” and “Historical Insights” because it helps me to realize what society and our nation was really like when my early relatives were alive and to understand hardships and/or achievements they experienced. I also enjoy Beta because the content I work most with is all on ONE PAGE, no going back and forth : ) Thanx!!

    • Dan Lawyer

      Thanks for all of the great comments. It is so helpful to get feedback from our members. It seems that many of the comments (SAM, J, Rachel, Glenda, Karen, Anne, Jean, Debra) are positive about the changes coming in the new Ancestry site. We know there are some features still missing and these should be there in the near future. I also appreciate the reminder that we need to continue focusing efforts on improving the experience of finding historical records about our ancestors. That is a constant area of focus for us. Keep the feedback coming.

  12. J

    I agree that the maps and Life Story and Historical Insights are a good addition to the book/story version of ancestors. I also love to research the history of the time and place(s) my ancestors lived! I also discovered a few years ago, and am still adding to the fact that there are many, many kings, queens, royalty in general in my ancestral family. Who knew? I just started out wanting to confirm a couple of ‘facts’ for my father and grandson … confirmed them and so much more! I have used the story version now available on Ancestry, and have not been happy with it. This new Beta version sounds interesting for sure.

  13. SAM

    The story timeline is a great addition, giving you a broader perspective as you research. It helps guide one to know where to possibly look next, to find out what is missing in the “story”, going beyond just finding “dates”.

  14. Bill

    I have been involved with the Beta from the beginning and while Lifestory is not a bad thing, it should not be taking priority over all of the functionality that needs to be fixed and truly beneficial research tools that serious genealogists are clamoring for. If Lifestory is the best thing that can be said for this Beta then it has been a real waste of resources. Even if desired, it is woefully incomplete since it is for only a single person at a time (in spite of the family events portion) and unprintable.

  15. Bill

    … An additional comment on Lifestory… because the program cannot know the details behind the Facts, it portrays an inaccurate picture of a person’s life based on assumptions. Example: My GGGF was murdered in the US Civil War, but his son’s Lifestory says he “passed away”, and their is no way to edit that. Similarly, having a pair of twins where one dies immediately, but the 2 separate entries for the children don’t/can’t recognize that they are twins… and their entries in Lifestory again are not editable. I don’t see a good way for a program to handle the multitude of situations and unknown details, therefore it shouldn’t even try in genealogy since everything is based on fact or a detailed explanation of conclusions.

  16. Martha Wright

    First, I know that there are a lot of kinks in the system in many places that Ancestry needs to work out but I believe that is an ongoing process just as my understanding of what and how I can work on Ancestry changes/develops every day. Second, since I have been working on my family history for a very long time I am ready for more. I, for one, appreciate that Ancestry is working on ways that I can share all my work with my family. I so want to get to where I can create a multimedia presentation of many generations. Thank you for working on this and, yes, hurry up!

  17. Jerry

    This sounds terrific. One of the things I am missing in my genealogy efforts is family stories. I doubt this will totally take the place of those personal stories that I am missing, but it is a start. Almost all of my family is gone now so I can’t get those stories anymore. Can’t wait to see it

  18. Susan

    I am familiar with the testing of software and that is exactly what we are using every time we access our family trees. Programming is complicated – you change/fix one issue and another pops up. It takes time to successfully update a system and we must have patience. I applaud Ancestry for taking the initiative to make our research easier and the tools more User Friendly. I also have been using Beta and I love it. So easy to use and much faster to enter data.

  19. Gary

    Dan – this far in, I know the new site is inevitable. I’ve used the new version and as a power user, I can only report my sadness and dismay at this release. Since I guess Ancestry takes serious genealogists for granted, such a major fluff change must be going after newbies. The new look isn’t going to win you that much more market share as ease of navigation has gotten worse, and it will aggravate your most loyal clients. I had specific images linked to events that I created and that is now wasted time. It seems that you are more intent on making it look more like the horrible iPhone app and less like the exceptional interface that we all know. I have suggested many changes – tweaks – that would have made the “classic” site better, but like most software companies, if you are not reinventing what worked fine before, there would be little justification for a Senior Director of Product. I will probably keep some level of subscription because you’ve monopolized the data, but I will be moving my tree offline. It’s been a nice run. Best of luck.

  20. Gary

    Dan – looking at your business background, you come from the industry that I’ve been in for 30 years. This type of change is entirely predictable. Unfortunately, looking through the lens of software product development may have clouded your vision of what we really wanted and needed. You went with a full re-design that you either sold up the chain of command or it was tasked to you by upper management. Either way, a typical management view of the world. Why bring in someone new if all we’re looking for is tweaks? Change or die! What you have now is “New Coke.” My suggestion: don’t get rid of the old Coke, er…code.

  21. jane rae dillon

    I”m having a lot of trouble with the new format. One of my forebearers now has the wrong mother, and the others were born in the wrong place. Actually born in Marion twp, Pike co, In …. now says Marion, Indiana. There is a city Marion, In, there is a county, Marion, and they are over 100 miles from Marion twp.
    So, it isn’t just wrong information, it causes wrong conclusions.

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