Posted by Ancestry Team on June 22, 2015 in Site Features, Website

Reed family in CaliforniaI never understood my parents’ obsession with family history until I started to see my ancestors as more than just names and dates—and dusty old records. At first it was reading my Grandpa Pete’s journal describing the Statue of Liberty when his family arrived from Denmark. And when I read The Grapes of Wrath and heard how my grandparents also lived in a truck as they journeyed from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl, I was completely hooked. Over the years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching historical events trying to understand the challenges my ancestors faced and learn more about their daily lives. Now, you can have a similar experience delivered to you by Ancestry through Historical Insights.

What Are Historical Insights?

One of the goals of the new Ancestry experience is to help you uncover the stories behind the facts in your tree. And one of the ways to do this is to discover the historical events that shaped the lives of your ancestors. I’ve spent quite a bit of time gathering info and photos for my great-grandpa Jim Bobbitt. If you asked me his birth and death dates and states he’d lived in, I could rattle them off quickly. But the LifeStory interspersed with Historical Insights changed my perspective on his life. In a glance I could see that he was born before the Civil War (and as I learned through an Insight, he was living in Illinois when Lincoln and Douglas had their famous debates there) and died after World War I. I imagined the changes he saw over his lifetime, from the Emancipation Proclamation and women’s suffrage to a world embroiled in a global conflict.

HI_homesteadersOther events crystallized in my mind too. I knew he moved from Illinois to Nebraska in the 1870s, but until I saw the Historical Insight about homesteading, I didn’t realize it was during a time when the U.S. government opened up western lands and offered pioneers acres of free land. Was this why he moved his family? And although I knew Jim had participated in the Oklahoma Land Rush, I gained a new appreciation for this exciting moment in American history when I looked at the images and stories included in the Insight. After learning so much about his life, I found myself clicking from person to person enjoying my tree in a way I hadn’t before, watching these amazing people coming to life on my computer screen.

How Do We Know What Your Ancestor Experienced?

So how did Ancestry know to put information about the Lincoln Debates, Homestead Act, and Oklahoma Land Rush on my great-grandpa’s LifeStory? Insights are a lot like hints. We use algorithms that look at records and facts in your tree and compare them to dates and locations of historical events. In the case of my great-grandpa, the system could tell he moved from Illinois to Nebraska between 1870 and 1880 using census records I’d saved to my tree. Because Nebraska was one of the states opened up by the Homestead Act during this time period, the event was added to his timeline. You may find that some family members aren’t included in specific events like you expected (or relatives have irrelevant Insights on their timeline). That’s because Insights are like hints and won’t always be presented for the correct people.

Where Can You See Insights?

When we first launched Historical Insights, they could be viewed only on Apple iOS mobile devices. We’re happy to announce that they’re now available on the desktop too. All you need to do is sign in to the new version of Ancestry. (If you haven’t tried the new site yet, now is the time. And if you try it and want to go back to using the current version, just click “Classic Site” from your account drop-down menu.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 3.25.31 PMHistorical Insights appear automatically in each family member’s LifeStory. To learn more about the event and see historical photographs, simply click the photo (or Review button). If you like the Insight and want to keep it in the timeline, click the Keep button; click Ignore if you don’t want to see the Insight again for this person. Make sure you select Keep or Ignore for each Insight because only two new Insights will appear on a timeline at once. After you accept or ignore an Insight, you just might get something new the next time you view the LifeStory. (Notice that other family members who might have been affected by the historical event are also shown.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 4.09.41 PMYou can hide Historical Insights on the LifeStory and Facts view. For example, if you’re busy in research mode and don’t want them taking up space in the timeline, click the settings drop-down menu and choose “Hide Historical Insights.”

What’s Ahead?

Because Ancestry members have ancestors that crisscross the world and have lived through many centuries, we know that we won’t be able to cover every flood, plague, war, or immigration wave that ever happened. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try. By the end of June we’ll have almost 600 Historical Insights for 20 countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, South Africa, China, Mexico, and Hungary. And if you have family living in America during the Revolutionary War or Civil War, you’ll want to check your ancestors’ timelines in coming weeks; new Insights will let you know whether you have relatives who were living near battlefields during these key conflicts.

Let’s Hear from You

Although we have a team of experts combing through history books, websites, and timelines looking for events that changed the world, we want to know what interests you. Did a new industry revitalize your grandpa’s hometown and bring masses of workers to the area? Was an earthquake responsible for the destruction of an entire town causing your family to move? Let us know in the Comments section about the historical events that you’d love to see in your ancestors’ timelines.

26 Comments

  1. Alan

    From what I have seen about the Canadian Historical Insights, a lot of work is required to refine these. I would like to see these more regionally & culturally focused…right now they are too nationally/internationally focused and you can tell they don’t reflect a good understanding of Canadian history. Needs to be different insights for French & English Canadians, need more & better Insights on major immigrations that affected the country, etc. I can think of dozens that should be added as a priority!

  2. Pat

    The Life Story section is a waste of time and space, nothing more than the “Facts” from the profile page written in a different way. And the “historical insights” are entirely generic, and the few I’ve looked at in my tree, have nothing to do with my ancestors. I do like to add history to my info, but I look up my own and tailor it to my family. I wish you folks would concentrate on better searches and transcriptions.

  3. Bev

    I’m grateful for the button that lets me hide these useless generic “historical insights.”

  4. Mary

    A new look for the user interface and the new historical insights and life story features are window dressing intended to drive up the bidding when Ancestry is auctioned off in a few months.

    Subscribers are disgruntled or planning their exit strategy because some popular features won’t be in the new release, navigation is worse and the new half-baked features are a priority over basic functionality such as duplicate checking on hints and being able to sort a list of search results.

    Scrap the window dressing and spend your time on bringing the functionality of this app out of the 1990s.

  5. Robin

    I joined Ancestry to have access to records. With those records I have done my own research into historical happenings that directly pertain to my relatives. I am capable of researching history on the web, need ancestry for the records to put a person in a certain place in which to research. Though I have never believed the adage ‘the customer is always right’, I see before my own eyes that ancestry is ignoring what thousands of peoples are saying about the ‘new ancestry’ and going ahead with it anyway, historical insights and all. My subscription is up in a few weeks. It will not be renewed…I am not paying you money so you can ignore what I’m trying to buy.

  6. Tana L. Pedersen

    Alan, would love to see a list of the dozens of Insights you think would be great. Pat, at this time you can’t add your own Insights but sounds like a great feature to consider. Debbie, Pat, Bev, Mary, and Robin, thanks for your feedback. I hope we can work on the functionality and content that would improve your experience.

  7. Joel Clary

    I had written quite a few articles on the pages of ancestors and with the new format I find they are gone. What happened? What we could use, are sidebar note areas, so as we investigate a name, we might find all sorts of ‘iffy’ information wherein we might place various notations until we confirm or deny said ‘iffy’ information.
    The point being, I had written solid information of individuals I was researching, about their work or what they did at specific times. I cannot find a way to access it , if it even exists.

  8. Ken Ross

    My Grandfather visited Kitty Hawk, NC during one of the Wright brothers test flights – not the first. This is significant to his life story. The fact than many other of my relatives “…… shared the same ground as the Wright brothers while they toiled to take flight in North Carolina in the early 20th century.” This is very superfluous to say they happened to live in NC during this time. A waste of energy and space unless directly bearing on the individual.

  9. Molly692

    I have been a faithful subscriber to ancestry.com for many years because I figure you would never lose my records I have worked hard to transcribe. I have posted wills, deeds, and other documents to prove my work. I am very disgruntled that none of this is available on the site any longer . I am not one of those people who put somebody’s child’s birthdate before their mother, etc. I work at what has been posted. First you removed it from genealogy.com and now you have hit the stride with ancestry.com. I am so dissatisfied. I once praised this site to all who could hear…but I am at a loss at who has made this leap into history and took the genealogy out of it. Of course, if you do genealogy, you need to do history-but when it replaces a will, or a deed or some explanation of how you got your own answers, then I am not pleased with it.
    I am sickened to find all my hard work go down the drain, that nobody may use your search engine and find a will whose “unknown daughter, Sarah who married a Sawyer” say, oh, this is MY FAMILY. What the heck were you thinking. Did anybody with any genealogical research background have ANY input into what you did? It also would be interesting to know why you changed a group sheet you could look at with one glance and see-father, mother, children….one page, not hidden in paragraphs. Also, I can also tell that if you were born in 1774 and died in 1853, you were 79 years old, without you figuring it out for me. I think you have done a great dis-service to all those who took the time to put wills, deeds, etc. on their website-if we did not compile these records, you would not have them to put up there to begin with. I know when we posted this that you were in fact getting our work, free and clear (as we are the paying people here), and now continue to market it…but where did all our hard work go….what website will it now show up on. I am truly, truly disheartened by your “improvements” and over the next few months will think more seriously about where you are going, and make my own decisions on whether to continue that journey with you.

  10. Molly692

    Okay, I went to customer service, and saw how to “recover” my lost stuff. So, next question is, where is the drop down menu?????

  11. MaryMK

    Most anyone who has spent time with genealogy records knows the historical events that took place during their ancestors’ lives. I don’t like or need the historical insights pictures that are on my family trees. Most are too generic and have no real relevance to what my ancestors experienced. (Credits/sources are not even with the Historical Insights pictures– I have to click on the picture itself to see where you found it.) The cotton plantation picture on my Louisiana timelines has nothing to do with MY people and their sugar plantations. My ancestor not only lived in NY City when the Brooklyn Bridge was being built, he was Superintendent of Police. MY pictures and documents WERE my historical insights. Now, they’re hard to access and they’re not displayed where I want them. I’m embarrassed by what Ancestry has done to my heavily-documented tree. What was fact is now fiction: my “reinvented” story. The state of Louisiana now has “Counties” instead of “Parishes.”

  12. Alan

    Hi Tana, If I wanted to provide my additional Historical Insight topics, how do I submit them/contact you? Regards, Alan

  13. netzband

    I really like the new interface, and even the Historical Insights, though there was the usual learning curve. Best of all, I can edit them so I can fit them into my family context. For example, on one person the “Irish Rebellion of 1798” popped up. That person was born in Ireland, but happened to be the son of the British military commander, not one of the rebelling Irish. So, I was able to edit the Lifestory and put the Insight into context. Can the Lifestory be printed?
    I would like to be able to suggest insights. I also would like the new page to have something that “lights up” on any page where I have made notes or where there are comments. Right now they are too hidden.
    Ancestry isn’t perfect, but as long as I can pay the subscription, it is money worth spending. I’ve been a member since the 1990s when they had the little box that clicked a new database when it was added!

  14. Robin

    John W Fish was my 3rd GG. Ancestry has given him the following Lifestory. “John W Fish was born in 1782 in Jefferson, Maine. He married his first wife on August 24, 1804 in Montville, Maine. On May 20, 1814 he married his second wife in Parma, NY. He lived in Liberty, Maine for more than 10 years, from 1850-1860. John died on Dec. 8, 1870 in Liberty, Maine having lived a long life of 88 years and was buried in Fish, Florida.” Here is John’s story according to the sources I have attached to him. John was born in Jefferson, Maine in 1782. At this time I can’t prove his parentage. On 24 Aug 1804 he married Susannah Cunningham in Montville, Maine. Shortly thereafter he bought 80 acres of land in Liberty and the census shows him and Susannah living there in 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870. They had 10 children and somehow, someway, stood up to the fact that they had to bury 6 of them, 5 as adults. The road that cuts through what was John’s property is called Fishtown Road to this day. The Fish Family Cemetery where John, Susannah and most of their children is on Fishtown Road, South Liberty, Maine. He never had a second wife, and he was NOT buried in Florida. I didn’t need his story reinvented. The truth was tribute enough. Thank you.

  15. netzband

    After thinking about this subject way too much this week, I decided I wanted to make a few more comments. As I get older and know that I don’t know how much time is left in my life, and since at this moment none of my grandchildren seem to be interested in family history, I took what to me was a huge step in finally posting my family tree, and making it public. In addition I have created a couple of “community” trees. The new Lifestory view along with the Historical Insights have given a way for newbie or exploring genealogists to look at the lives of people in historical context. Anyone who is an experienced genealogist knows that sometimes such “life stories” are guidelines that must be backed up with facts. I think that’s why Ancestry created the “facts” view.
    What I am trying to say is that my family trees are not just mine (just as they also are not just Ancestry’s). I WANT people who come after me to see them. I WANT them to correct mistakes as they find new clues.
    Do I ever “ignore” some of Ancestry’s suggestion? All the time. Just as I have ignored and/or molded some of the Historical Insights. Is Ancestry perfect? By no means. However, I NEVER want to go back to those days of sitting in a hot upstairs room in the Allen Co. Public Library in Ft. Wayne with tomes of unindexed books, trying to find one or two tidbits of information after an entire day of researching, usually coming home with bloodshot hours after also perusing microfilm for hours. I am so thankful to be alive in this exciting time period of genealogy.

  16. muataa@me.com

    I like the Insights feature thus far. Wonder, though, if it will be tailored to also provide information that is tied to the ethnic/regional/socio-economic situations of the person in question. For example, the experience of many African Americans will include all of the Insights that you provide; however, there is ANOTHER story unique and distinct to African Americans that won’t be a part of the history that is normally recorded and shared. For example, many of the forms of oppression – riots, lynching, segregation etc…and the remedies that developed NEED to be shown in order for they younger generation in my family to truly understand what my grandfather or great grand went through…

  17. Tana L. Pedersen

    Joel, can you tell me where you wrote those articles so I can help you find them in the new interface? If you used the Comments feature, those can be found on the person page. Click the Tools menu and click View Comments.

    Ken, Molly, Mary thanks for your feedback. I’ll be sure to pass it on to the appropriate people.

    Alan, please send any of your suggestions to tpedersen@ancestry.com or post them here in the comments if you feel comfortable doing that.

    Netzband, glad you’re enjoying the Historical Insights and that you were able to edit it to really work for your family story. Currently the LifeStory can’t be printed but that’s a great suggestion.

    Robin, I’m sorry the LifeStory didn’t reflect your 3rd great-grandfather’s life as expected. The LifeStory is autogenerated using the information in your tree.

    Muataa, yes, we are definitely working on these types of Insights because we realize that race, socioeconomic status, and more makes a big difference in every historical event. I hope you’ll enjoy the new Insights we have coming.

  18. cmiller

    Hi Tana,

    I love the historical insights! Where did you find these events and images? What are your plans for adding more events in the future and do you have a list of all the insights we can explore even if an ancestor never experienced them?

  19. R

    I also love the historical insights! It is hard to imagine what was going on in our ancestors lives besides getting married and having babies. To see Civil War and immigration stories interspersed, it makes my ancestor’s life stories come alive! I didn’t put 2 and 2 together with regard to my great-grandparents living in South Dakota during the time Mount Rushmore was created! Thanks for this handy and informative link into my ancestors lives!

  20. Kristie

    Hi Tana, when critiquing, we’re supposed to sandwich negative critiques inside good comments. So for the good – I think these ‘Historical Insights’ are helpful if you’re 13 and need to do a class project before your two week free trial is up. After you’ve clicked on ‘a whole bunch of people’ to fill out your family tree, these photos will impress the teacher and be easy to print off.
    To answer the question above about where the ‘events and images’ came from: Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Images. No history books were harmed in the writing of these blurbs.
    Many of the images are worse than worthless, and I’d laugh if it all wasn’t so sad. I have the ‘Boston Tea Party’ painting on an ancestor’s page who was three years old at the time – and lived in Virginia. One after the other, it says “Ancestor lived in the North during the Civil War”. No kidding. A photo of kids in a classroom is on many adults in trees. An article about the Governor of Kansas in an ancestor who lived in New Jersey. (P.S. Your algorithms are wonky – and I’m being nice). But here’s the sad part. You put something like ‘Land Rush’ on someone’s timeline, and now people treat it like a fact. Yep, that’s the reason Great Uncle Bob moved to Nebraska. Maybe. Maybe not.
    You say ‘don’t look at it’ or ‘edit the stories’. Sorry, I’m not going to spend research time cleaning up your mess, or clicking endlessly to hide something I didn’t even put on what I thought was MY tree. I can’t control what other members look at, or family members I’ve invited to my tree. I don’t want them to think I wrote this stuff. Like others on the forums, I have to make my trees private so no one gets confused with true historical information I have discovered about THEIR lives, and this nonsense – what a shame. You don’t even use Genealogical Proof Standard dating when writing the fluff that we can’t edit on the LifeStory page- how confusing for new people, and embarrassing for you. I really feel sorry for people who put years of their lives into making beautiful custom events and true family stories in their trees, only to have them replaced by this generic Wiki stuff. You asked what we want to see in our ancestors’ timelines. My first choice is to have such nonsense go away, but at the very least, there should be a global shut-it-off-for-the-entire-tree, and no one can see it ever, if that’s our choice. One click per tree. You HAVE to make a way for people to get back their custom stories they poured their hearts into – you are aware people are in tears? I’m sure you’ve read other blog posts here: https://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2015/06/05/new-ancestry-feature-update/
    So the back of the sandwich with good news – Ancestry achieved their goal of ‘re-inventing our family trees’ with these questionable ‘Historical Insights’. Thank you for asking.

  21. Kathy Strickland

    Hi,
    The historical insight pics all mention my great-grandfather as living in Colorado at the time. He never lived in Colorado, and that state does not apply to anyone in his line. Can this be corrected?

  22. Robin

    Regarding your response (see above, “Robin, I’m sorry the LifeStory…” to my earlier comment. You say the LifeStory is autogenerated using the information in my tree. The point I was making was that it gets information from somewhere, but not my tree. There is no mention on my 3rd gg page of New York, a first wife, or burial in Florida. It is autogenerating totally made up baloney.

  23. Deborah Carl

    I’m working on the Esposito family and wondered about all the orphans coming from Naples to Acerra, Italy. The following website explained that Esposito was the name given to all orphans for a while and I found the information very helpful and wanted to add it to the Historical Insights for my foundlings. http://www.conigliofamily.com/Foundlings.htm

Comments are closed.