Welcome to our weekly update on the new Ancestry website. Last week we showed the progress we made on printing and FamilySearch integration. This week we are focusing on a challenge you may have seen with the place names (locations) in the LifeStory.
Location, location, location:
In the new Ancestry website, we automatically generate descriptions for certain events that help enrich the family stories you have already written. Locations are part of the narration of the LifeStory and if the place name is not fully mapped, it can cause a wrong detail to be displayed. We are working to fix this.
The underlying issue has to do with one of the long-lived challenges of computerized genealogy – place names are often ambiguous. For example, if someone says their grandfather was born in Chester, what would you think? If you were from Pennsylvania, you might assume he was born in Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, USA. On the other hand, if you are from England, you might assume he was born in Chester, England. This is the same underlying problem we see at times in the LifeStory. The computer needs a little more help to know which Chester your ancestor is from.
To try and overcome the ambiguity inherent to place names, systems have been created that attempt to ‘standardize’ or ‘normalize’ place names. Think of this as a system of rules that tries to map ambiguous place names like ‘Chester’ to a discreet place name like ‘Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, USA.’ When this process goes wrong, computerized genealogy systems produce unexpected results (like suggesting that your grandpa from Pennsylvania is from England).
In a perfect world, computers would be smart enough to sort through this ambiguity and determine the place name based on other information in your tree that relates to your grandfather. Until then, it is important to enter as much information as possible when you input place names into your tree. For example, the best practice in the United States is to enter City, County, State, and Country. The computer seems to struggle the most when smaller jurisdiction names are entered without referencing the larger jurisdiction that contains them like in the example of Chester versus Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, USA.
Now, the last thing we want is to have all of our members spending their time fixing every ambiguous place name in their tree (unless you really want to). So, we have decided to change the way we generate the LifeStory. When a place name is ambiguous, we will simply omit it from the narrative. And while it will not be included in the LifeStory narrative, it will remain in your tree exactly how you entered it.
For those of you who don’t want the additional narrative in your LifeStory (at all), here is a tip: you can hide these events completely by clicking on the gear icon on both the Facts view and LifeStory and then selecting the ‘Hide Family Event’s option.
We understand when a location displays incorrectly in your tree, it can be more than a little annoying. We hope this adjustment to the information that is auto-generated makes for a better looking (and correct) LifeStory narrative for your family members.
Features that we are still working on:
- Inaccurate narrations in LifeStory and Facts view – We are fixing this as noted above in the main section of this post.
- Profile picture cropping – Edit/crop a profile photo to fit in the circular photo space. If this does not solve the issue with the circle frame, we will consider an alternate route.
- Member Connect – Find other members researching a similar ancestor and save the info from their family trees.
- Family Group Sheet – A family view of the of the person and their family.
Top Reported Issues
Below is a status on the top issues surfacing from your feedback.
- Photos added to events to appear as thumbnails in Facts view – Thank you for your feedback on this. We are evaluating whether to include this functionality in the new site.
- Light and dark color choices – We understand the white font on the darker background has presented some challenges. We will continue to adjust this as more feedback comes in.
We appreciate your feedback and encourage you to keep submitting it. What do you love about the new website? Did you find a bug? Something doesn’t quite work like you think it should? Please submit it via this form. Thank you. We will be providing more updates over the next couple of weeks.
More Resources on Ancestry
- Announcing the New Ancestry Website
- The New Facts View: Make Sure You Are Climbing YOUR Family Tree and Not Someone Else’s
- Ancestry LifeStory: The Life Lived in the Dash