With its huge database of documents and information Ancestry.com is one of the required services for genealogists today. Since they also own the Family Tree Maker program they have been able to to connect the service and the software to make moving data between them easier. When you install Family Tree Maker and start looking up records you learn that you can have the program automatically download them from Ancestry. This is very convenient and you can get a tree built up really fast.
What I’m going to suggest, though, is that instead of using the automated download that you instead enter the information into Family Tree Maker by hand. While the process is slower, you get some real benefits:
- The information you download had to be transcribed by someone, and may or may not have been done correctly. If you get the information off the document yourself you will be sure of what you have in your database.
- Ancestry does not always transcribe every field of the record. You could be missing important information about the person.
- You can do better citations than Ancestry. Ancestry nicely includes citations in the downloaded records, but they are a bit vague and mainly tell you that the record came from ancestry. It does not point to the specific entry in the record or back to where the record came from. I should point out, though, that this is true of other big record services like FamilySearch and the NEHGS as well. They give citations on their web pages but they tend to be specific only to the type of record. You still need to build you own specific citation for what you got.
- Working off the image yourself can turn your source from derivative to original. For example, I just pulled down a census record from Ancestry and got this for a citation:
Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004), http://www.ancestry.com, Database online. Year: 1900; Census Place: Mobile Ward 6, Mobile, Alabama; Roll: T623_31; Page: 24A; Enumeration District: 103.
Here’s what it would look like in Evidence Explained format:
1900 U.S. census, Mobile, Alabama, population schedule, Mobile, enumeration district (ED) 131, sheet 24-A (penned), dwelling 496, family 564, Micheal McGovern; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 June 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 31.
I’m not going to go through all of the differences between the two citations, but the key one I want to point out is that Ancestry’s citation only gives you credit for looking at an online database, but if you get the information yourself from the image you can put “digital image” in the source. This means that you are dealing with a facsimile of the original and not just a typed copy. This gives you more confidence in the quality of your information and provides the same for anyone you share your tree with.
- Looking over the document while you enter the facts can lead you to other helpful information. For example, it is helpful to look at other names on the page for possible relatives.
Having said all this, you will need to be able to do your own citations to do all this successfully. This is not an easy skill and you may not be ready for it. As an intermediate step, go ahead and download the information and image from Ancestry into Family Tree Maker. After you have done this, go into FTM and copy the source that Ancestry provided. Then look through the original record and do two things: correct any transcription errors that Ancestry made and add any fields that they missed. Paste the citation to the new facts so that they have a source. Also look over the form for neighbors that could be relatives or other connected people.