Friday, May 6, 2011

Why Ancestry "leaves" don't pay off

Yesterday I came across a post written by Jenna at Desperately Seeking Surnames in which she muses on the "shaking leaves" of fame. She discusses the gripes many people have made regarding the commercials making the "shaking leaves" seem like an oasis of factually correct genealogical data, rather than what they really are: a possible link to a possible connection. I agree with Jenna that the leaves are a nice thing to never know what you may find.

My issue with the shaking leaves is that they are meant not only to show links to possible online trees that match, but also links to documents in their collection that may refer to my ancestors. I have found that I have received very few leaves linking me to potential document matches and when I do it is for a census...and usually for an incorrect person. It seems like such a lost opportunity. The databases are massive and it would take a lifetime to search each database for each ancestor. The leaves, and obviously the Ancestry search engine, are built to keep me from having to spend so much time searching, yet their results never seem to get me any deeper than census data.

This all came to the forefront this morning as I was reading the blogs I follow. One of my favorites, NARAtions, the blog of the U.S. National Archives, posted on Confederate Prisoner of War Records. This archive includes records kept by the Union Army on the Confederate prisoners of war they held captive at various prisons. The post mentions that these documents are digitized and in a searchable database on Sweet! I say. Of course I hopped over and in a matter of minutes I found four documents on two of my ancestors: Marcellus F. White and Samuel O. McGuire.
But what a round-about way to get there! I had to randomly read a blog post to learn of the records and their archive, jump to Ancestry and search the archive. Perhaps one day search engines will do as advertised and show me that my ancestor "was the only doctor in town." Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to have found the documents regardless of how they came about. But wouldn't it have just been easier to have a shaking leaf?


FrustratedSue said...

I agree with you. Ancestry has NEVER found a connection to my great-grandfather. Because of a friend and then because of a new-to-me type of search I have found 3 sources on Ancestry that are "perhaps" my grandfather's records. Nothing is proven here, but now I have records to consider and work from. These records are all on Ancestry; I believe at least ONE of them should have turned up on a leaf.

TCasteel said...

Although the leaves usually point me in off directions, I still always check them out as, once in a while, I find an a-ha link - something I should have already caught but missed somehow, or something completely unique. So don't give up :-)
Theresa (Tangled Trees)

Jennifer said...

I agree!! I still check them occasionally, but it's usually nothing. :(


zelsersk said...

The shaking leaf does kind of drive me crazy. I clear them out when I see them. Most of them are not matches for my family tree. I find that I must review them and click ignore on the ones that are not a match just to clean up my family tree. The thing that drives me crazy the most are the hits on the U.S. Census for my Flanagan ancestors in Ireland who never, ever lived in the U.S. Go figure...?

Lois Jones said...

In 2002 I gave a data base to roots.web; since then it was changed to World Connect and without my permission publised it on their site. The data for this tree came from original church records from the LDS Microfilm Library. However with the use of the leaves several hundred people have attached my info. to their trees and all but maybe six are incorrect. Has anyone any ideas how to get ancestry to remove all these interlopers from my tree.

Lois Jones