Saturday, August 4, 2018
Off the Shelf:
Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com
With as much time as I spend in a day using the genealogy go-to site Ancestry.com, a book choice like Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com may sound counter-intuitive. Take one to three hours a day times three hundred sixty five and then multiply that once again by just about as many years as the family history website has been in existence, and surely I've found every digital nook and cranny there is to find.
Either that, or I've been repeating the same old routine, day after day, that many times. It may be time to learn some new tricks.
Actually, though that point about repeating the same research habits ad nauseum is a valid one, the real reason Nancy Hendrickson's book caught my eye is that I've been asked to teach a local series on how to set up a family tree on Ancestry. I'm looking for resources to offer my students who'd like a little bit more than just class time. Book recommendations, on my list, don't come without firsthand experience.
So, coming with the shortest shelf-life of any of my books that I've shared here at A Family Tapestry, I decided to mention this second edition, just out from Family Tree Books in May of this year. I'm currently test driving this book, but noted the publisher's promise that whether the reader has "just begun dabbling in family history" or is a longtime Ancestry user, the tips within the covers may just turn me into an Ancestry "power user."
Of the four main sections of the book, the first part does address those beginners who have been "dabbling." Covering the basics, both of the principles of genealogy and how Ancestry helps with those basic research needs, the first three chapters provide an overview of the family history database we've come to be so familiar with at Ancestry.com.
The second part of the guide delves into specific features of the website. Record group by record group, the chapters discuss census, BMD, military, immigration, newspapers, photos and memorabilia, directories, and wills—each in its own chapter.
Following that is the section of the book which first caught my eye: the section on DNA. Since one arm of the Ancestry.com universe contains a genetic genealogy world, it makes sense that a guide of Ancestry would include this specialized offering. The section is comprised of three chapters, explaining how to interpret your test results, connect with your matches, and wrestle with those unsolved mysteries of your own ancestry.
Hendrickson's Unofficial Guide has a companion volume, Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook, which I didn't purchase, but which my students might find useful. I don't plan on teaching to the book, but wanted to vet possible resources students might find helpful.
After all, whenever I've had to learn any new program, how many times have I reached for my desktop bookshelf to pull down my For Dummies guide to find a better way to approach a problem? Regardless of how user-friendly programmers insured that Ancestry would be, I imagine starting from scratch to learn a system like their tree-building program might seem daunting to novices. Having a guide on hand could certainly boost confidence—let alone help researchers capably find the shortcuts to the right record set.
The author, fellow Californian Nancy Hendrickson from San Diego, made sure to include many illustrations of documents found and other examples of the wide variety of material included on the Ancestry.com website. She also included personal examples of how certain records helped her break through research stalemates, which is not only an encouraging touch but a way to provide a human-interest story focus to help pull the reader through what otherwise could have been tedious how-to directions.
With a site as enormous as Ancestry.com, no matter how much you may have used it, there is always another tip or trick you can learn. But from the feedback I get from my beginning genealogy students, they want a hands-on approach to setting up their own tree on Ancestry—and that, they will get from a few weeks in class with me. But after that point, then what? Having a guide to refer back to when they get stuck will be a useful way to bridge the gap between wide-eyed, information-overloaded new user and more comfortable and confident regular subscriber.