I’m back, and I’ve tried Ancestry.com’s Facebook app

OK, I could not stay away for very long and this blog is functional again. I don’t guarantee how often I’ll update though, as I haven’t had as much genealogy time as I’d like.

I had a few days off work due to Hurricane Sandy, though, so I spent some time playing with Ancestry.com’s Facebook app. I had been hesitant to try it for fear it would be creepy, but it wasn’t that bad. At least it didn’t post random things to my facebook page.

First it identified me, and then it rifled through my facebook friends and suggested connections. Confirming them was a little tricky as there was an intricate panel of dropdown menus for specifying relationships. For example, that cousin is my father’s brother’s son. Some distant relations required workarounds in that I had to specify how they were related to other relatives (chosen from another dropdown menu) to get them to connect. I ran into a few instances of confusion about where to assign children in cases of multiple marriages. (People on Facebook don’t generally specify “step” when they name their relatives because it doesn’t sound warm. Also, subsequent spouses often adopt children of previous marriages.)

As I connected people, their Ancestry entries were updated with their facebook profile pictures and often some personal information, such as a birthday if they had that available on their Facebook profile. If they had other relatives listed who had not been in my Ancestry tree, they were also added.
I found the app useful. I discovered relatives on Facebook and realized I could not properly place them: they were someone’s kid but whose? The process inspired me to sit down and add all my cousins to my Ancestry tree — putting a lot of trust in Ancestry’s privacy safeguards for living people. Once they were in Ancestry, though, all their records popped up right away, so now there are obituaries attached to late cousins, etc.
Working through it made me realize that I am getting older. I started my genealogy project more than ten years ago. At that time, I only included people from my grandparents’ generation and earlier in order to respect people’s privacy. Now most of my grandparents’ generation has died, and I am just one generation down from the elders. It used to be easy to keep my cousins’ families in my head, because they were young people with only a few children. Now they have grandchildren of their own, and I need to make a little chart.
So what about the privacy issues? My personal offline database includes information on everyone, but that is never uploaded anywhere, and I carefully scrub reports it generates so as not to expose anyone. You will never see living people’s personal information here on this blog, for example. However, I am putting everyone on Ancestry and trusting Ancestry’s privacy safeguards. Although I hesitated about this, the app is only importing information people have themselves posted to Facebook. And Ancestry is password protected and their personal information is hidden if they are alive. So I feel like it wasn’t that creepy after all.
Have other people tried it? What was your experience?

End of the week links

  • “Obama Slave-Ancestry Report Misses the Mark” by Linda Heywood and John Thornton at The Root. Without faulting the actual genealogical links in the widely publicized report tracing President Obama to John Punch, historians Heywood and Thornton explain more about laws and social practices related to 17th-century slavery in Virginia. It’s an interesting discussion of interpretation, because they argue that finding the earliest penal sentence of slavery doesn’t mean other people weren’t already enslaved.
  • My family are mostly in Massachusetts, but I moved to New York years ago. I keep in touch with them mostly through Facebook. Sometimes Facebook is where I find out that someone has died, or married, or had a baby. I put these events in my genealogy program and note as a source “Facebook.” And each time I think, “Wow, that’s some sorry-ass sourcing right there. But it’s what I have for now.” But maybe it’s not so bad after all. In a New York City racketeering case, Facebook has been ruled sufficient evidence to support indictments and search warrants. So maybe it holds up as a source for the names of a cousin’s children. I suppose I should be working out a more elaborate format for the source, indicating the date posted and the name of the account, etc.  How do other people treat Facebook? Is it a source or just gossip?