Blog post

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How to make fabulous cousin connections on Ancestry

So you want to make fabulous cousin connections on Ancestry?

I’ve had great success in making fabulous cousin connections on Ancestry. My distant cousins have told me old family stories, sent me documents and photos, suggested places I might look and people I might ask for more information and they have remembered me and contacted me again later. I am holding off on contacting any more of my wonderful distant cousins in order to avoid information overload.

Since this happy situation doesn’t seem to be the case for everyone, I thought I’d share some of the things that have worked for me. Some of what I say may seem counterintuitive. Like… source citations don’t matter (actually they do, but not in the way you think). Bear with me!

Disclosure: I have no connection with Ancestry other than as a paying customer. I am not suggesting that you should, or should not, join Ancestry. While some of my suggestions are specific to, others are applicable to any genealogy site where you can search family trees and contact the owner.

If you build it…

…they probably won’t come. Build it anyway. Your family tree, that is. Put it on Ancestry. This can be accomplished by exporting from your desktop software to GEDCOM. You will need a skeleton family tree (birth, death and marriage details) for your direct ancestors and at least a few generations of their descendants. Take the usual precautions about removing living people.  Source citations don’t matter, so don’t bother exporting them.

[Gasp! What did she just say?!]

The thing is, you’re putting your tree on Ancestry as a tool, not a publication. I found that my attempts to upload source citations to Ancestry mangled them unacceptably. They cluttered the place up distracting from what I actually wanted and needed to see. They were hard-going to maintain with Ancestry’s horrible source management interface. It wasn’t worth the effort.

If stepping out sans citations embarrasses you, set the tree to Private. You will still be able to do most of what I suggest, although it may assist in establishing a rapport with other members if they can see some of your information. You can change your mind later. I did.

Here are a few reasons for members to put their tree on Ancestry:

  • Other members may contact you. This hasn’t happened to me very often but it is possible.
  • It’s easier to fill out the search forms. As you start typing, Ancestry will offer you a drop down list of ancestors from your tree to choose from. Just click a name, and all the search fields are filled for you.
  • You can avail yourself of the member connect features (I’ll talk more about this).

I have quite a bit more to say, so I think I will break here and make this post a multi-part one.


  1. Shelley,
    I love Ancestry  for searching and connecting but am still wary of putting my information there. I tend to rely on my family site for connections (and I get enough of them to keep me hopping).
    I see my information there all the time  (posted by others) . I  just asked someone to remove the details of my children from public view which she did most gracefully.

  2. Hi Shelly,

    I have also met many new "cousins" , and have become great friends with many of them though online family trees. We not only share our research, but when one of us gets new photos or certificates, we email them to each other.

    People can pinch what they like from ancestry et al; but they had better check before adding, as I was very much the beginner when I put my trees online! The mistakes that people make are so blindingly obvious to me now, that I am sure they will end up with a bigger mess than me. Sometimes I contact them or add comments pointing out mistakes, and some are willing to take my advise, other's ignore it - that's their problem!

    I get contacted almost daily from new "relations" and being mostly housebound as a carer for my disabled husband; find it a fabulous way to meet new people, both here and overseas (mostly UK)

    I use ancestry, but also don't like the citation form, so I am "cleaning up" my 4 trees offline, creating my own citation formats that seem more clear and precise, and deleting any info that is not sourced.

    Cheers from Linda

  3. Happy Blogiversary, Shelley! Looking forward to many more.  

  4. Oh it is too! Thank you! I'd better do a post...