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Ancestry Public Trees versus Private -an invited Referendum

Discussion in 'Comments on the latest newsletter' started by Bob Spiers, Feb 10, 2018.

  1. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    I have great regard for Peter Calver and have emailed him before when something in his Newsletters catches my eye and pleases. So, it should come as no surprise that I do the same when something displeases. I took exception in his latest Newsletter (9th February 2018) about his comments -particularly his closing paragraph - on Ancestry Public Trees, which as everyone knows he dislikes, and likewise that I support. So, I emailed him on the matter.

    Peter has suggested that I air my views on the Forum and invite comment for and against public trees -and shades in between if necessary - so I am copying the gist of my email. To make sense of my comments I suggest you read, or even re-read what he had to say in his Newsletter under the heading: “Revealed: why so many online trees are rubbish”. In particular read the Ancestry webinar, then what Peter has to say on public trees paying particular attention to his closing paragraph.

    Here are the main points of my email to Peter:

    … “your comments in your latest Newsletter about Public Ancestry Trees are a step too far. Your latest tirade…suggesting people name their Trees… “Rubbish XXX tree -copy at your peril” is something one would expect from a Donald Trump tweet and it does you no credit whatsoever.

    Everyone … knows your views on Public Trees, just as you (and many on the Forum) know I am greatly in favour of them. I also favour Ancestry over FMP …but can still regard both as essential tools in my genealogical armoury.

    I own to having a personal antipathy to Ancestry Private Trees, which I see as insular and fit for no purpose other than that of the person who created them. There are other mediums affording privacy -like Tribal Pages for instance – but I believe (private trees) fly in the face of Ancestry's raison d’être.

    As the webinar suggests, Ancestry is a stepping stone for others, and it has certainly been that for me. Let us face it: you dislike Public Trees, fine; you do not recommend them; fine. Nuf sed.”

    I see no need for me to expand further on the matter but will be interested to learn what others have to say on the subject. I may then comment further of course.
  2. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Star

    I have mixed feelings on this one. I created my Ancestry tree (ancestors only) specifically to go alongside my DNA test and probably wouldn’t bother with an Ancestry tree otherwise. It started out as a private tree, then I switched it to being public, mostly to test out DNA circles, and recently I’ve made it private again.

    I have my own genealogy website open for all to see. It includes more people and more detail than my Ancestry tree, and I am happy for other researchers to peruse and use my information, and hopefully get in touch.

    What I dislike about having my Ancestry tree public is that others can add my hard work into their tree (often in the wrong place) with a simple click of the mouse. If people have to copy the information manually from my own website there is a greater chance that some thought will enter into the process, and that they will contact me to share insights.

    Having said that, though, my research is out there and has long since been included in other people’s Ancestry trees, So making my own tree private may be shutting the stable door too late!

    I guess I would like to see a few more options than just private or public.
  3. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    I agree. It would make sense to give DNA matches more information.

    Please note that if you have a private tree linked to your DNA results it should be a full tree, not an ancestors only tree - if you have researched further than your cousins they might not recognise any of the ancestral surnames in your tree.

    Having your own website seems to be a fairly safe option, but my perception is that it works best when it focuses on a handful of ancestral surnames.
  4. PhilGee

    PhilGee LostCousins Member

    As Pauline, I have mixed feelings on this matter. I have a public "direct ancestors + siblings" tree attached to my DNA results and a number of private/searchable "one name family" style trees for direct ancestors and their descendants that I will provide guest access to. The public/searchable option should be sufficient for others to determine the relevance to them via hints in their tree.

    I would like to be able to change the "DNA" tree to a DNA specific option viz. "private/searchable/DNA", or perhaps it should be automatic, - making the direct ancestors element of the tree, not necessarily the complete tree, to be seen in the "Pedigree and Surnames" tab of DNA matches in the same way that public trees are. This might result in the many private trees attached to DNA results being changed

    I do, however, use public trees by other members for guidance at times - though I always validate the new data where possible and acknowledge the source.

    • Agree Agree x 1
  5. PhilGee

    PhilGee LostCousins Member

    Sorry, Peter, if your tree is private your cousins cannot see the content so the extent is not relevant - at least, that is with every one I have looked at. Possibly you meant a public tree?

  6. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Star

    You can invite your DNA contacts to view your tree so the extent of the content would then be relevant.
  7. PhilGee

    PhilGee LostCousins Member


    If you invite them to view your tree, then it doesn't need to be linked to your DNA results.

    As far as I am aware, the list of surnames in the "Pedigree and Surnames" tab of DNA matches only lists the direct ancestors , so would not cover a "subtree" of a sibling (but am willing to be shown incorrect).


    Perhaps we are getting off topic?
  8. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    That is a common misapprehension. The whole reason for having an Ancestry tree is so that your cousins can find you in a search, and unless you have made your tree unsearchable it is just as easy for your DNA cousins to find you whether you have a public tree or your private one. (That is why the strategies in the DNA Masterclass are so effective.)

    It's a little more difficult for other cousins to find you because of the way that Ancestry imply that you can't search private trees (by only listing public trees in the Search menu); to search them you have to choose Search All Records.
  9. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Star

    Yes, but it happens to be the only context in which I’ve so far done it.
    True, but there is also a link to view the full tree, and selecting a person allows you to see their children.
    Possibly! But even if your tree is private you do have options to allows others to see it.
  10. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    That's quite right. But that's something your DNA cousins only see after they've found you - the important thing is to make it as easy as possible for them to find you in the first place.

    Note: the Pedigree and Surnames info only shows if the other member has a public tree.
  11. PhilGee

    PhilGee LostCousins Member

    Apologies, Peter. Confusion caused by my terminology - my use of "private/searchable" refers to the default private status of Ancestry and I miss-applied my usage of "private", which I use for "private and not searchable", to your post.

    But they will still find your tree if it is not linked to the DNA results, under those circumstances, so a full tree isn't necessary for the DNA link as it provides nothing extra unless public.

  12. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    How would they find your tree if it isn't linked to your DNA results?

  13. PhilGee

    PhilGee LostCousins Member

    As you said:

    I used that mechanism before taking a DNA test and anyone finding your tree just needs to look at your profile to see if you are a DNA match, if they do not recognise the username. It also allows a full name etc search, whilst the DNA match search only allows a surname. The former would find "Jones" of "Llangyfelach", the latter "Jones" for all locations, which could send you in the wrong direction :mad: As always, there are swings and roundabouts: Vennell of Trowbridge is probably equally easy by either method.

  14. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Phil, do you really expect your DNA cousins to carry out two lots of searches rather than one? Sorting out DNA matches is quite hard enough as it is - please don't make it unnecessarily difficult!
    It doesn't allow forenames, but it does allow places. Perhaps re-read my Masterclass?
  15. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    Whilst my posting did not really relate to Public Trees opened specifically to check on DNA results, I accept it augments the relevance of Public Trees. From the DNA point of view, ‘Private Trees’ - and far, far worse - ‘No Trees’ are like the proverbial chocolate fireguard; not fit for purpose.

    Harking back to the theme of the posting, I was most taken in the Ancestry webinar with the comment about “stepping stones”. That really rang my bell, thinking back to how I began -as a complete novice - with Genes Reunited (GR). I started with very basic information knowing mostly Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and first cousins. As a bonus I also knew the first names of my maternal Great Grandparents (still lacking great grandma’s maiden name of course) and that my maternal Grandma’s mother came from Ireland; the jewel in my knowledge crown. I made some progress with GR -or as much as it would allow – but only really found what I sought when I switched to Ancestry (ill affording the cost at the time).

    I was more interested in the improved research that Ancestry offered but gradually Public trees came to my attention. It took a comparatively short time to learn of those who had something to offer and others that were quite fanciful to say the least. (The experience was to stand me in good stead when I later joined My Heritage (MH) and not long after -but too long in retrospect – kicked it into touch).

    To use a bookkeeping analogy relating back to the mantra I learned at a Commercial College long ago… “your Tree can be in credit or debit”. As a beginner you have few assets so must build them up by learning to research (trial and error the order of the day) and see what others have to offer. You gradually learn to judge quality over quantity and communicate with those you believe are on the right path. This is where Private Trees came to my notice and I soon learned few owners bothered to respond, with one or two exceptions of course. So, I thought it best to ignore them.

    Of course my developing Tree took some wrong turns -one or two spectacularly wrong – so am not too surprised when I spot other Trees going down a similar wrong path and lose no time in telling them; not always with good outcomes it must be said.

    After a year or so I noticed things had changed. I was receiving more messages than those generated. I made many acquaintances along the way, and -best of all - discovered two (at the time unknown) once- removed first cousins. This began when one asked how I was related to her great grandmother? All because we all had Public trees.

    For these reasons (and others which would take far too long to set out) I strongly support Ancestry Public trees. They are symbiotic where you get out what you put in. This makes everything worthwhile.
  16. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Star

    The DNA search only allows birth places - you can't search on baptism place, or any other known place. For people born before 1837 and who died before 1851, the birth place may well not be known and those people won't show up in a search if you include a place.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
  17. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Star

    I don’t think it’s the genuine mistakes - which we all make - that are the main problem with Ancestry trees. I think it’s the hints which cause the real issues particularly, but not only, those from other trees. I have opted out of hints from other trees, but some of the historic fact hints I’ve been offered are totally ludicrous. I get the impression that some tree owners accept all hints without bothering to review them, and until I started my own Ancestry tree I just couldn’t understand how people introduced such ridiculously impossible facts into their tree, though I could see a lot of copying from tree to tree occurred. And I think you can only copy information from another tree if it’s a public one?
  18. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    You don't have to name a precise place - you can specify the county, or even just the country. Even when I search for Smiths I do fine specifying just the county (Kent); for most other surnames I don't even enter the country. Searching DNA matches is very, very different from searching all Ancestry trees, and you need to adapt your technique to get the best results.

    I generally only specify precise places, ie parishes, when I'm searching without a surname.
  19. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Bob, have you ever considered that if the option for private trees didn't exist there would be many more people with no tree at all? Or who would attach a direct ancestors only tree to their DNA results, rather than a detailed tree? One of the reasons I spend so much time talking about the benefits of private trees is to encourage LostCousins members who haven't linked any tree at all to their DNA results to do so.

    Someone who adopts the strategies recommended in the Masterclass What to do with your autosomal DNA results won't waste any time looking at matches where there is no tree, nor will it make that much difference whether their cousins have a public tree or a private tree.

    Yes, if a cousin of mine has a public tree rather than a private one I can do a bit more before contacting them, but it isn't a deal-breaker. Having no tree at all would be, because people who have no tree at all hardly ever respond to messages (probably because they haven't done any research at all).

    Telling people that public trees are the only ones worth having is completely counter-productive.
  20. PhilGee

    PhilGee LostCousins Member


    No, there isn't a need for two searches - the non-DNA search identifies all possible cousins and a single click for each (opening the profile in a new tab?) will determine if they are DNA cousins, if you wish to apply that filter. I'm not convinced that DNA cousins are more rigorous in their research or more likely to respond, but it is possible.

    From the master class: you have the option of searching by surname or birth location - or a combination of the two

    The way the DNA search is laid out suggested to me that it only searches surnames or places and that is supported by a test I have just done where "Vennell" and "Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England" separately produce results, but the combination does not even though I have a known DNA cousin, descended from William Vennell of Trowbridge who appears in both of the separate lists. You can, of course, do two cascaded searches, where the second search will filter the first search list - and does show the Vennell match. If a combined search does work for you, then I must have a problem with my system - though Ancestry is not displaying pages properly in my usual browser without a reload at the moment (probably an add-on playing up), whilst Chrome is running fine.

    I believe a new tree (sub)type might go a long way to satisfy both view points: private&DNA - effectively a public tree to DNA matches when using the DNA part of Ancestry, but private&searchable otherwise.


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