Optimizing ancestors. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out, because I’ve spent some time during the first few weeks of the year setting myself up for success. So far, my approach has generated several more hints and additional ThruLines.
I still need help with several ancestors, so I’ve devised a methodology for hopefully attracting people who might have done research or have information about specific difficult ancestors. I’m using this same approach at MyHeritage too and I’ll be writing a corresponding article with instructions for MyHeritage after RootsTech.
Direct Line Ancestors AND Their Spouses and Children
Back in the dark ages before DNA, I only had a direct line tree on Ancestry. My complete tree that I’ve worked on for years is both huge and in places, incorrect. I have no sources for some very old information – as in – I don’t even remember where it came from, let alone a source citation. That was in the days before the internet. Yes, I know, I’m dating myself.
I’m not uploading that tree for obvious reasons. Or at least, I assume they are obvious in that I do not want to add to the “problem tree” problem.
However, today, in order to receive green document leaf hints, potential parent hints as well as DNA hints such as ThruLines, we need to provide vendors’ systems with enough information so that they can connect the dots is a somewhat reliable way. In order to do that, we need to add as much information for each ancestor as possible, including:
- birth and death dates
- birth and death locations
- all spouses, not just the one we descend from
- children and their spouses
I’d like to extend the children down another generation, minimally, but I haven’t done that yet for every ancestor. Every generation added gives Ancestry software fodder to use to “connect the dots.”
Review and Accept or Reject Hints
You’ll quickly find that your tree is spouting a whole springtime full of those green leafy hints.
I added all of my ancestors’ known siblings and children for the couples above, and every single one of them sprouted leaves. I also have some potential parents to sort through.
Some leaf hints will be productive and others will leave you shaking your head. That’s why they are “hints.”
For example, many census records will be spot on – but then there is that English church baptism record from decades AFTER my ancestor by a similar name died.
Fortunately, the first option is to review or ignore the hint.
You can also switch on “Quick Compare” which sometimes shows additional information.
Never, EVER, blindly accept hints, and never, ever ASSUME!
Believe me, I’m the queen of having to redo – so just don’t. When I began doing genealogy, we accepted a lot of information on faith – specifically faith that the older generations spoke gospel. Today, we often have more information at our disposal than they even dreamed possible – and we’ve come to realize that their information might have been wrong.
When reviewing a hint, in addition to yes and no, there’s a “maybe” button that deposits a hint into an Undecided folder if you don’t know or can’t decide. I do keep my leaves cleaned up on my tree so that I can immediately see by looking at my tree when I have a new hint.
You can review and change your mind later, for all hints.
I always “ignore” the Ancestry Member Trees. That’s NOT to say I don’t use them, because I do. They just live in the Undecided bucket, and I know they are always there for each ancestor.
I review the trees and look for documentation and hints that I don’t have. I certainly don’t want to accept those hints and have “Ancestry Member Trees” listed as a source on my tree. Those trees are NOT sources in and of themselves, they serve as hints for places for me to do research, or perhaps messages to send.
I know that some hints for each ancestor will always be in the ignored file. I review those periodically too and sometimes find things I discarded before I had additional information that makes that hint relevant.
ThruLines are calculated for a maximum of 7 generations counting your parents as generation 1. You can see the dividing line clearly below.
By clicking the little DNA icon on the left, pointed to by the red arrow, the DNA icon that indicates ThruLines appears on each ancestor for whom the system has generated a ThruLine.
There are three absolute requirements for ThruLines:
- You must have a tree
- You must have connected your DNA test to a person in that tree
- You must have DNA matches to other people with that same ancestor in their tree
Family by family, I entered the names of the spouses and children of all the generations eligible for ThruLines so that ThruLines would (hopefully) be generated for every eligible ancestor that I’ve identified.
Two Kinds of Green Leafy Hints
The leaf hints showing on your tree are record hints, not to be confused with the leave on your DNA match page, which are ThruLines hints.
The tabs for both trees and DNA are at the top of your Ancestry account page.
When you click on DNA, you’ll see several options, but if you click on matches, you’ll see some matches with green leaves that indicate a common ancestor – translated, that means a ThruLine has been generated.
At the top of your matches page, you can sort and filter in a number of ways. If you click on “Common Ancestors,” you’ll see only the people with whom you have green leaf DNA hints.
Everything except the information in the red box is generated by Ancestry. Information in the red box, notes and group match dots, is up to the user.
By clicking on the +, you can add or edit self-identified colored groups.
For my first match, I have identified the common ancestor. It’s Hiram Ferverda (and his wife.) I’ve added that information in the notes field, and used the appropriate grouping, shown below.
Initially, I had grand ideas about how to use these groups, but there are only 24 and that’s not nearly enough, so now I check “ancestor identified” and enter the ancestor’s name in the notes field. If Ancestry adds the capability for more groups, I’ll need to rethink my strategy.
Other group designations that I use, other than a few ancestors, are:
- Multiple lines
- Private (meaning I can’t see their tree)
- Speculative, akin to bait
- Ancestor probably identified, which is more certain than speculative
- Working, tough nut to crack
- Starred matches are those that I had prior to Ancestry’s big change in May of 2016
Spruce Up Your Tree’s Curb Appeal
If you want people to look at your tree, which means interacting with cousins and maybe, just maybe, attracting the right person to help, you will need to do a few things to make your tree attractive.
Ancestry member trees are displayed in the order of the trees that Ancestry judges to be “most complete” or “best” first, meaning the highest number of sources and sometimes the ones with profile images.
The “best” Ancestry member tree, to the left of mine, has 5 sources and 4 records attached.
The first thing I do when I’m viewing member trees is to scan down the list and see who has photos, because photos might, just might be of my ancestor, their home or tombstone.
The next thing I do is to view the sources and records.
So, the message here is that in order to attract people, IMAGES ARE KEY.
Pictures and Images
People are drawn to pictures. It’s as simple as that.
You have two places to make an impression.
First, your own photo on your profile is the first thing people see first on the DNA match list.
Notice what your eye sees first – my picture.
The rest are the same, no photos.
Upload a photo to your profile on your tree.
Note that there seems to be an Ancestry bug that does NOT show photos of some matches when they actually do have their photo in their tree. It might also be their privacy settings preclude their photo showing.
However, the other place you can attract people is to your ancestors in your tree.
This is my matches abbreviated view of my tree, and below is the full view of the same part of my tree.
Notice how much more attractive this tree is (with images) than the mini tree below that I quickly assembled for illustration purposes.
Would you be looking at those faces to see if they might be your ancestors? Or would you want to look at the pink and blue placeholders below?
Make Your Tree Fish for YOU 24x7x365
Now that you’ve attracted people to your tree, what do you want to accomplish?
First let me say that I immediately “ignore” all DNA icon picture hints. These icons are used by people for themselves, which is fine, to identify ancestors who are related to them genetically in their tree or whose DNA they carry. However, those images are then “suggested” to everyone else as a photo of that ancestor. That’s a wasted opportunity for both them and you.
Here’s an example in the tree of one of my matches.
Use groups or tree tags, or both, if you want to designate ancestor’s whose DNA you carry.
DNA images don’t convey anything to someone viewing your tree. You will attract people by providing something THEY will find interesting, or conveys a targeted message.
Here’s how I organize my profile images and decide what to display, in order, for each ancestor:
- The ancestor themselves, preferable in color if possible
- Their gravestone or cemetery
- Their home
- Their land
- A document from their life, preferably with their signature
- Something in their town or area from the timeframe they lived there
- Map of where they lived
- Flag or crest of where they were born or died – smallest area to largest area. For example, if I know the town where they lived, I’ll use the town crest, but if I only know the state or country, I’ll use those in that order.
By using images, not only can someone viewing my tree see something relevant, I can too.
Use images to YOUR advantage.
What about ancestors that you’ve added to your tree as “bait,” meaning those that you’re unsure about. I add them with a group tag of “speculative” in the hope that hints or ThruLines will appear.
I need to say that a ThruLine does NOT confirm that specific ancestor. You and everyone else can all have the name “John Smith” for that ancestor, and you can either be referencing different John Smiths, or you can all be wrong, together. Your ancestor might be Ben Johnson but you all think it’s John Smith and have him in your tree. Mind you, your DNA does match, but it could also be because of an unknown common ancestor someplace ELSE in your tree.
I don’t know if these “bait people” in my tree ARE actually ancestors, so I certainly don’t want to post information about a person, or an image for them, that is not relevant to my tree. I don’t want to mislead anyone else either.
Up until now, I’ve left those speculative ancestor profiles with the generic pink and blue icons, but that doesn’t convey anything to anyone else who will likely just presume you haven’t uploaded anything.
You could use a BAIT icon, like this image from the now-defunct site openclipart, which would convey that you are fishing with this ancestor in your tree. That would hopefully accomplish two things:
- Discourage someone else from adding that ancestor to their tree just because you have that ancestor in your tree, even if ThruLines have been formed.
- Encourage anyone who sees this image to contact you if they can offer assistance with this ancestor.
Remember, these images will (may) be offered to other researchers as hints, so you might get lucky and someone will have something to offer.
Asking for Help
What about those brick wall ancestors for whom you really want and need help? These aren’t people tacked onto the end of a branch for bait, but people whose identity you not only don’t know, you don’t have a clue or theory.
In my case, I know the names of the children of William Crumley and his wife. I know her mitochondrial haplogroup, H2a1, and her rough birth and death years based on the ages of her children, but I don’t know her name. In some cases, I know a first name but not a surname.
To alert people that I’m seeking help with that ancestor, I’ve chosen to upload a question mark image. I named it “Need Help With This Person,” so that’s what people will see in their hints. The question mark itself consists of puzzle pieces. I found this image at the now defunct openclipart website as well, where all images were copyright-free and contributed. You can find images at Pixabay and other free sites, but be careful that you don’t get in copyright trouble, or wind up on sites that will download malware onto your system. Pixabay is my “go-to” site now.
You can also use the images from this article.
Uploading images to any profile is drag and drop.
On the ancestor’s profile, click on Gallery, then on “upload media.”
Drag the photo into place or click to upload, then select the image you wish to make their profile photo. Done to exit.
To select an image already uploaded for the profile, just click on the image. It will open and you will see the “Linked to” field.
Make a Statement
In a couple of cases, I’ve made a custom profile picture using Snagit – especially when I’ve disproven something and erroneous information is being widely disseminated like wildfire by copying and pasting of trees.
I had to use this icon twice, because both the father and son were named Stephen, and both of their wives were named Elizabeth. While the Elizabeth married to Stephen born about 1720 is the one who is supposed to be the Cripe, anglicized from the German Greib – that information gets attached to both women willy-nilly – and both incorrectly.
If people want to check further after seeing this icon, there’s a link attached to both Elizabeths in my tree so that they can read my research in my 52 Ancestors articles about the Elizabeths.
Notice that Ancestry suggests potential parents for Elizabeth born about 1725. You guessed it, the potential father suggested by Ancestry, which is NOT a function of DNA matching, but only of tree popularity, is for a Greib father extracted from other users’ trees.
Leaves in your tree don’t mean DNA matches, just document or record hints. Leaves on your DNA match page mean a common ancestor has been identified in the tree of your DNA match.
Another way you can help yourself is to add a comment about what kind of help you are seeking and how to contact you. Ancestry messaging doesn’t reliably work.
You’ll notice that I’ve selected 3 tree tags for this ancestor. I know she’s my ancestor because I’ve triangulated segments to this couple (elsewhere, not on Ancestry due to no chromosome browser) and confirmed my ancestor with her sisters using mitochondrial DNA. She’s a direct ancestor in my tree, and she’s also a huge brick wall.
By clicking on the little edit pencil, a panel the right will open displaying the Comments tab, among others.
Note that Notes are only visible to you and anyone you give edit permission on your tree.
But Comments are visible to others.
Ancestry has had long-standing chronic issues with messages not being delivered, so I always include my e-mail address. I also track with group dots which matches I’ve messaged previously. You can sort by group, and therefore I can check who I messaged and when, and try again.
I just can’t help myself. After all this work, I really enjoy looking at my DNA ThruLines page.
Ancestry displays ThruLines in generational order. Here are my 8 great-grandparents, assembled together. By flying over each one, I can see how many DNA matches I have for that particular ancestor’s ThruLine
This also makes it easy to track in a spreadsheet over time, if you’re so inclined.
My 4th great-grandparents are the first generation where I encounter brick walls. I’ve added that question mark for William Crumley’s wife. In that same generation, I also find James Mann and Mary Cantrell. I have information about THEM, but what I don’t have is a document link to Nancy Mann, who I know positively is my ancestor. Unfortunately, even though I have 6 DNA matches to James Mann, they are all through Nancy Mann, which proves exactly nothing other than we all have him in our tree and we might well all be wrong together.
I think I’ll upload the bait icon for James Mann and his wife, Mary Cantrell.
Does It Work?
I had multiple goals, of course, but hints were being generated literally as I worked through my tree performing these housekeeping tasks.
It’s difficult to tell exactly why I’m receiving more hints and ThruLines given that I’ve performed several housekeeping tasks, but I doubt that they are all coincidence or solely the result of new testers. After all, I’ve given the Ancestry software a healthy dose of fertilizer to work with.
Like anything else, to get results, you have to feed the machine. Computers do their best work with more, rather than less, information.
I’m hopeful to achieve the following goals:
- I would like to find people who can take Y and mitochondrial DNA tests at FamilyTreeDNA to represent my missing lines.
- I’d like to confirm additional ancestors by multiple DNA matches through different children of the ancestor.
- And of course, I desperately want to break down those pesky brick walls.
I realize that some people cringe at the idea of “giving” information away to other people, but I look at it just the opposite. If what I’ve “given” in my tree in terms of already invested work, photos and images paves the way for one photo of an ancestor that I’ve never seen, finds one person to take a Y or mitochondrial DNA test that breaks down a brick wall that will never fall any other way – then everything I contributed was well worthwhile.
After all, that money and time is already spent – sharing it means that it might pay off a second time. The absolutely worse thing that could happen is that it helps someone else who doesn’t reciprocate.
However, I prefer to think positively and pay goodness forward. I have been truly gifted so many times that I want to do the same.
Collaboration truly is the key to success, especially in genetic genealogy.
What can you do to spruce up your tree to obtain better results?
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