Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Defending Myself

Recently, I've found myself in an interesting situation in which I have to defend my recent post where I talked about how misleading the new Ancestry ad campaign is, including one commercial in particular. First of all, I do not have an "anti-Ancestry agenda" nor did I accuse Ancestry of "stealing credit for member submitted photos." I said the commercial was misleading because that, in my opinion (as an AMATEUR genealogist who makes no claims of knowing everything there is to know about genealogy), is the truth. First of all, the commercial in question makes it sound like there is some sort of connection between census records and photographs, that simply by searching a census you will be led to find pictures of your ancestors. While it would be great if this were the case, it is simply not. For another thing, the commercial makes no mention of the fact that the vast majority of the pictures of people on the site are user-submitted and that finding a picture of your ancestor on the site is far from guaranteed and contingent on a user submitting the photo. And in case you're wondering, I recently re watched the commercial to see if there was any kind of fine print stating my points and there isn't.

As for my so called "anti-Ancestry agenda," I don't have one and never have. When I first got into genealogy in the late 1990's, was one of the first places I went to and a decade later, it is still my first stop for any genealogy related questions and my overall, favorite website. I have been a happy member since 2001 and as of 2009, I am thinking about upgrading my membership to the World Deluxe level. I also receive their magazine, regularly read their blogs, and am considering getting their Family Tree Maker program again. But you know what? There is room for improvement at Ancestry (as there is with anything else, including myself and this blog) and I'm not going to pretend it is a perfect place and not say something when, in my opinion, they need to improve.

First of all, the new search stinks. It stinks to high heaven and the majority of the cursing I do in a day is due to how horrible it is. Second of all, I'd like to see Ancestry make free the databases which are free on other sites. This is just a personal thing with me, a quirk if you will, and not something I expect anyone else to agree with. I just think, from a marketing standpoint, it would look better for your company to offer the same books and records for free that are listed as free on other, competitive sites such as Google Books and FamilySearch. I also think doing that would keep more people on the site because I can't tell you how many times I've been on Ancestry working on a line when I have to go open a new tab or leave the site entirely to go find the record that I want to see for free on FamilySearch but is inaccessible to me on Ancestry. Thirdly, I think the new marketing campaign is misleading. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never even done genealogy before, who probably only knows the names of their grandparents at best. How do you think they'd feel if they were first getting into genealogy, knew absolutely nothing about it and the Ancestry commercial I discussed earlier comes on TV? They'd probably be elated and excited and go on Ancestry and then be tremendously disappointed because they didn't find a picture of their great-grandfather when they were going through the 1880 census. While Ancestry has a lot to offer, it doesn't have all the answers like it, in my opinion, claims in its new commercial(s). I have names and lines that I have never found a scrap of information on at Ancestry and the majority of pictures I've found on the site are of coats of arms and family crests, which anyone worth their salt in the genealogy world can tell you are bogus (these are individually granted, not "given" to families and surnames).

I know they present Ancestry as the place with all the answers for a reason. Honestly, if I worked for Ancestry, I'd be tempted to do the same campaign because it is very seductive and I'm sure, very successful for them. I just think they need to re-work their spots to mention (or at least include in fine print) that information isn't guaranteed and you shouldn't get your hopes up too much. Bottom line is that I'm worried these spots will get people into genealogy, get their hopes up and make them walk away from it because it didn't pan out like the commercials made it look.

FYI, here is the commercial so you can judge for yourself:

Now, please don't send me hate mail/comments! Thank you.


  1. Welcome to the wonderful and weird world of blogging. Unfortunately, having a blog sometimes means dealing with "hate mail", attacking comments made by cowards who hide behind the name Anonymous, etc.

    Good on you for making a stand. I too have been an Ancestry user since almost Day One and while I find great value in their product base, it doesn't mean that I can't give honest, critical feedback about the products or the company.

    I appreciate your willingness to take a stand - you make a strong case as to why you don't like the Ancestry commercials and others need to realize this is your blog with your opinions.

    Also don't let the fact that you are a self-described amateur genealogist get in the way of having an opinion about genealogy. One thing I find at many blogs and message boards is this elitism of who is or isn't a real genealogist because they don't have certification, because they're new, etc. I don't buy it. You have every right to voice your opinion.

  2. Whoa - what a come on! I have never liked Ancestry for all of the same reasons as you.

    I've been researching my family for over 20 years and the BEST way to do it is the OLD way - courthouse records, census, etc. And the very best way of all is the microfilms at the LDS library. They have led me to notarial records in the Netherlands from the 1400s. I doubt Ancestry can do that! I've also seen very old court and tax records from Sweden, and other early records from Poland, Belgium and Germany.

    Love reading your blog.

    Sharon in Surprise, AZ

  3. Thanks you two, I really appreciate your nice words, especially in light of all the nasty ones I've been getting lately... I'm glad to know I'm not the only who disagrees with some of Ancestry's policies.

  4. Your comments are right on. I also love Ancestry and know that a lot can be found on it, but that it often takes a lot of work and ingenuity to find that information. Commercials which make it look too easy can end up working against Ancestry in the event that too many people looking for easy finds get discouraged and start bad-mouthing the company. And, finally, I also hate New Search with a passion. I've been "thrown" into it twice now and have somehow figured out (after much lost time) how to crawl back to Old Search (which I've bookmarked - hope that works).

  5. Hi Leah ~
    I totally agree with you. Like you I subscribe to Ancestry but when some of those commercials first started appearing they made me "talk back" to the TV. Things like - "Oh get real - that is NOT going to happen" etc. I feel that these commercials are really doing a dis-service to genealogy because as we all know - even us amateurs -it NOT that easy!

    Of course that is actually why I like it - when you do find something it's thrilling.

    Hang in there - people who send hate mail (vs constructive disagreement) need to get a life. Maybe they should just log on to Ancestry - I hear all their family pictures are just waiting for them there :-)


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