If you think of genealogy as a solitary pursuit, you'd mostly be right. After all, there is some truth to those jokes about researching at 3:00 a.m. in pajamas and bunny slippers. Nobody instigates a flash mob at the local cemetery, or arranges a get-together at the government archives. If our research calls us to places like those, we go it alone. At the most, perhaps we'd carpool with a genea-buddy for a special visit to a distant library. But genealogy as a social event? Not the usual image. Except...
There is one aspect of family history research we tend to forget about: the need to have someone to tell when we are bursting with the genealogy happy dance. As solitary as we researchers might be, when it comes to finding the long-awaited answer, we crave the opportunity to share it with others—preferably those others for whom the tale does not induce the dreaded MEGO response (My Eyes Glaze Over).
My personal opinion is that the perfect venue for such sharing is the local genealogical society. A circle of like-minded folk, the local genealogical society is comprised of people with similar objectives: to delve into the past, focused on discovering and understanding our ancestors and their times. However, not all communities have local genealogical organizations, and even in the towns and cities which do, many residents may not even be aware of their existence—or choose solely to avail themselves of research services through nationally-known genealogy companies, and bypass any opportunities to talk with others about their discoveries.
If I had my own way, of course, I'd be advocating for people to get involved with their own local societies, but if that is not always possible, I've noticed what I hope becomes a new trend among those "big box" genealogy companies which bring us so many useful records and other digitized resources.
In the past week or two, I've spotted a few new tabs on my Ancestry.com account which indicate that Ancestry, too, is becoming an advocate for connecting researchers. This is good, right? After all, products like DNA tests for genealogy would be far less useful if we didn't have a way to connect with those mystery fourth cousins. For every complaint I hear about "no one in the family" wanting to step up and pick up on our research when we'll eventually need to lay it down, I'd love to see a way offered for subscribers to tempt those reticent family members to at least take a peek at all the fascinating discoveries we are making.
Lately, it seems, Ancestry.com is providing ways to take such steps—tiny steps, at first, but tools to help us connect with family and fellow researchers. Take, for instance, this new tab I spotted on the pedigree page of one of my family trees.
Tucked unobtrusively in the top right corner of the screen, along with the more familiar "tree search" bar, is now a tab labeled "Activity." Clicking it produces a drop-down menu containing three choices: Tasks, Changes, and Viewers.
This Activity tab is apparently still in beta mode. When I click open the first option—Tasks—the dialog box indicates, "Tasks are only visible to people you've invited to this tree." This seems to indicate that a subscriber can invite others not only to view the tree—which we've been able to do for quite some time—but collaborate with them, if they catch the vision and want to help chase those elusive ancestors. Behind-the-scenes comments and conversation can then circle around a specific task and the progress being made on that point. The more I think about the possibilities, the more ideas pop up about getting family involved at whatever level they are most comfortable participating. What a useful, yet simple, tool.
While the next option, Changes, helps provide a history of work being done on the tree—seems silly if you are the only one working on your tree, but makes immense sense when coordinating the efforts of several researchers working together—the third option is the one which grabbed my attention the most.
That third option, Viewers, provides a clickable list of every Ancestry subscriber who has taken a peek at that specific tree in the past seven days. There are caveats, of course. If a subscriber decides to turn off that feature on their own end, their name will not show up if they view your tree. That, however, is not the same as having a private tree, for some names show up on this list even if the subscriber maintains a private tree, requiring a polite request to view or discuss specific questions.
For those names which do show up on the seven-day rolling list, one click brings you to their subscriber page. There, you can view the subscriber's member name or moniker, including the date when first subscribed, how recently they have been active on Ancestry, any specific research interests they choose to list, and whether they are willing to help other researchers with specific tasks. Also on that member profile page is their list of trees (and whether public or private), and whether they are a DNA match to you. Along with all that is the ability to send a message to that specific subscriber by simply clicking the tab labeled "message."
Using that new device this past week, I was able to locate a researcher who shares an interest in a particularly challenging branch on my family tree. That was enough to prompt a message, which then started a conversation. Sometimes, all it takes is the means to connect easily.
Hopefully, this set of new tools provided by Ancestry is the first of more such options to come. After all, the concept of family itself implies connection, and what better way to come together than through joint exploration of our own family tree.