So, there is this Ancestry app that’s out & available to Ancestry subscribers who have built a decent sized family tree. One must have a paid membership to use the app.
First, the app is NOT INFALLIBLE. It is often flawed. It is only as good as the information it’s reading.
This app runs algorithms to between trees to compare information & observe where the information leads. Example: If you’ve got an Aunt Vesta in your tree, and I’ve got an Aunt Vesta in my tree, and they have enough of the same personal information (DOB & location, etc) then the app assumes it’s the same person. It then calculates your probable relation to the other person who has Aunt Vesta in their tree. You can give it permission to look at your facebook friends to determine which of them have Ancestry accounts associated & then it offers suggestions on how you may be related to certain facebook friends.
But wait! That’s not all. It searches celebrity lines to see if you possibly share lineage with a notable person. This is a feature that gets everybody all worked up. First of all, DON’T try to contact the notable person & declare your lineage & expect to be best friends. They don’t care if you are their 7th cousin, really. Especially if they are under the age of 50 they really don’t care. If they are VERY famous, they are also very busy. If one day you get the opportunity to casually chat with said celebrity in person (visiting an event such as a Comic Con or the like where it’s possible) then you can decide whether to say, “I am a fan, by the way, I am also your cousin, distantly.” If you TRULY can’t help yourself, go ahead. But, do not expect them to care. If you’re lucky, they’ll be polite & act interested but really, they’re not sure what to do with that information.
Since I am a genealogist who has spent years tracing my family lines, I already knew of a few notable people, but it did tip me off to one I didn’t know: Blake Shelton. And I LOVE Blake so I went ahead and humored the app to confirm the family lines. It showed me which of my ancestors were from Ada, Oklahoma around the same time his was and it recognized some names being shared. I really SHOULD have known about Blake myself, because so much of my paternal line was in Ada for a over a century, but I didn’t so, it was a nice find. I checked all of hints the app said I should and was able to verify that he is, in fact, my 7th cousin- as long as everybody’s kids are legitimate! I do share DNA with the line that links us, so I think we are in the clear & I can listen to his music with a new shade of pride.
Now, if even ONE person was not actually biologically the child of even one parent, then the integrity of the line is out the window. The only way to discover such a situation is to talk as many relatives into submitting DNA as you possibly can. One cousin might confirm DNA down a certain line by sharing DNA with a key person in it, which validates lots of people in one fell swoop. Another might share DNA with a different part of that line and then you can begin to put the confirmed pieces together to legitimize most of the people. Careful though, it can become an obsession to chase down DNA like that. You will find yourself purchasing kits FOR your relatives just so you can have that DNA strand to prove your connection to that line… it gets expensive!
It likes though, it’s tricksy.
A great example of We’re Related being wrong is when it told me I was related to Elon Musk, the Tesla CEO who will eventually send civilians on vacations to the moon. I thought that bloodline would be SOO cool to have so I got on it immediately. If it were right, he’d have been my 5th cousin. Sadly, as I made attempt to verify the lines, I discovered that one of the grandparents in the line was dead decades before their supposed son who would have connected us was born. Bummer. It could still be a true connection, it could just be that a generation needs to be discovered which would properly fill that gap, but without spending a little money to order records of dead people, I won’t be able to knock on his door and play the cousin card to get a discounted trip to the moon anytime soon.
But sometimes it tells us the truth!
Here is an example of it being right… I am gonna pick on Marilyn Monroe again just because everybody knows who she is & can follow along better. Long before the app, I knew she was in the family so, all it did was say to me, “Hey! We found out about your family secret! Your family is responsible for giving Norma Jean to us!” Yeah, so you could chew her up & make her act all sexy then get her killed. Right. Ok. You found me out.
If you want to actually see every single relative connecting us, go ahead and mosey over to her page. On this page, I am just gonna quickly show you photos of how it tells me who is who.
First image is my lineage, up my paternal side working backwards through the generations. Second image is working backwards through her lineage, up her maternal side to eventually reach Sarah Fuller, who happens to be our grandmother. If I didn’t already know & was starting from scratch, I would need to properly verify each ancestor before moving onto the next. Next up is one I haven’t confirmed yet. We can do it together.
I start out skeptical because look, Sara has no last name, yet it is her mother who is supposed to connect us to the shared Sarah. Now I gotta go see if I can sniff out any proof of who she is. If I am lucky, another public ancestry tree will offer me up some free info.
There is currently nothing good immediately available in any family history libraries which would tell me who that woman is. I am going to have to work my way through each and every relative around her to look for clues, taking into account that with colonial naming customs, her first daughter would be named after her mother. Not every family stuck to customs but when they do, it’s a clue. I can’t even find proof of her first daughter’s name so, I can’t use that method.
At this point I am doubling backwards to Mary Ann Lanham. She is one of Sarah’s daughters. As you can see from my photo, I’ve got an icon of a DNA helix meaning I’ve found DNA in present day living cousins that proves her place in my line (she’s my 5th gen grandma). I am gonna revisit her facts & records to see if I can learn anything about a guy named Shadrick who is supposedly her father & married to this Sarah (you can’t see that from the photos but I can see it in my tree), and if I can find any public records, then I know he’s correctly placed, I will know I am onto it & it’s a worthy search.
At this link, I see on public record that her dad is listed as Shadrick. That is a record of her birth & Christening. Then I found this document about a Sarah Lanham in that town & it could be that the couple were cousins, so they may have shared a last name prior to the marriage, she is born in the right year… this just isn’t proof. No. I am gonna have to look up the guy it claims to be this Sarah’s father (William) to see if he is a brother to Shadrick, if no proof of that, I cast the Sarah in this record aside, for now.
So, this is gonna take a lot of work to confirm or deny. Since I get to pick & choose who I want to find and frankly, I am just not interested enough in my Lanham line right now to put all that effort into it, I’m going to leave it there, unverified, and just not claim the Twilight girl as my cousin yet because the mess that connects us is tangled up.
That’s We’re Related, in a nutshell. Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t. And this is how the We’re Related app tips USUALLY go. It’s only right about half the time because it’s at the mercy of the users of Ancestry entering accurate information. Let’s be honest, some family history researchers are lazy, some naive, some gullible… but some are BRILLIANT. Some are very thorough. If you catch onto a tree that’s well sourced, it feels like CHRISTMAS! It feels like a freebie. You want to kiss & hug that researcher for doing such a great job. I sent lots of virtual hugs & kisses, especially if they’ve uploaded photos of the ancestor!