Improving Ancestry com’s MyTreeTags feature

I’ve been so focused on DNA ThruLines and the hints system that I didn’t notice’s new tagging feature. Tags have been around a long time, and it’s nice that added this capability.

But… it seems a half-baked effort.

  1. There’s no obvious warning to other researchers when I flag something as unverified or a hypothesis.
  2. Ancestry isn’t helping me ignore the “old” method of using icons.
  3. Tags have no visual impact in tree view: for example, the “no children” tag doesn’t replace my “no children” gender neutral child on my tree.
  4. The “direct line” tag isn’t well thought out. Why can’t I just click myself and activate this along my direct line?

My biggest beef is about the research tags.

On a personal level, I’d love the research tags to appear in more places. One example: I complain a lot about’s poor hint quality, and I will go to “All Hints” page and ignore hundreds of hints for people I don’t care about. But I don’t always remember which profiles I stopped looking at because they’re brick walls. The research tags should appear next to the profile name here to remind me.

But the biggest miss for research tags is communication to other genealogists. One of my biggest fears is that someone else will take a wild guess of mine and copy it. I have one hypothesis in my tree by the name of “Wild Speculation Chew.” And then after I discover my wild guess was wrong and remove it, someone else will copy the copy of my wild guess. And ten years later, there are dozens of trees with my random guess.

Someone actually contacted me and made a joke about the crazy names they gave people back then.

 Add an example of family tree search and tags

My second complaint is centered around how this feature feels like is attempting to standardize all the crazy little hacks we all make to help track our research. But ancestry isn’t making an effort to help us ignore those little hacks now that there’s a better option.

For example, I put question marks as the suffix of a person’s name when I’m not convinced I have the relationship right, and create a gender-unknown child named “No Children” when a person didn’t have any kids.

Other people add little icons of angels and immigrant ships. I hate little icons. Well, no, I hate that ancestry serves up those icons as hints. I hate that so much I have a whole video about how easy it would be for to use artificial intelligence to categorize images, and give me the choice of suppressing hints for the image categories I don’t want to see.

My third suggested area of improvements is visualizations for the tags. The central experience in, for me at least, is the tree view. Sometimes I start by searching for an individual, but at some point, I traverse my tree in tree view.

Take a look at Thomas Kirk Plummer, here. I put some tags, but at a glance, all I can see is my ?. To see those tags, I have to click on his name and then expand the tags section.

OK, that’s not too bad. But for standard, un-customizable tags, why not create an additional visualization that is immediately visible for a handful of tags?

For example, research status tags could appear in on the right side of the profile pic, with unverified as a question mark, verified a check mark, hypothesis a light bulb, actively researching a magnifying glass, etc.

No children could have a small stop sign at the bottom. A brick wall could have… well, a little brick wall across the top.

My fourth area for improvement is about the “relationships” bucket of tags, specifically the “Direct Line” tag. That is just screaming out to me as a place for improvement.

On my wife’s tree, for example, I can trace back to fifth-great grandparents on almost every branch. That’s 254 people to tag as “Direct Line” and at five clicks per person, that’s 1,270 clicks, just for my wife. And I have several other lines of ancestry, including my own. Really, I’m never going to use that tag. Too much work, too little value.

But what if I could click my wife’s profile and choose an outline color for her direct line ancestry? Two to three clicks, and this could turn into this.

Oh, and why colors? Because there’s a point in my wife’s family tree, ten generations back, where she intersects with my sister-in-law’s family tree. In that case, the square around their common tenth-great-grandparents could show both colors. And I did not realize they were distant cousins for months.

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