Screenshot parody (c) 2013, Alex Colvin

Screenshot parody (c) 2013, Alex Colvin

Welcome to Ancestry.weird.

I had an experience with a record-search recently that I have to share because it’s just, um, odd. I was working on updating a biographical sketch of an ancestor from my maternal side and decided to double-check the data I had on him: a Civil War soldier. I already had his profile on my Ancestry tree, but it was lacking some data which I had in his hard file which I’d compiled back in 2000, and was among those many, many files I keep in an actual file cabinet in my study (otherwise known as Colvin Study Central)

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with since becoming a member in 2000. Some years I’d  renew for another year; sometimes just for a month, depending on how pissed off I was with their somewhat schizophrenic way of compiling and displaying data. Mostly, my  beef with them has been about how their “records” are digitized in such a way to leave much data excluded. Blame that on a business that relies so heavily on volunteers to do the grunt work and transcribing. That transcription / digitization flaw was entirely missing from’s competitor,,  who were a welcome breath of fresh air in the field choked with amateurism and poorly-cited compilations, but Ancestry gobbled them up in 2010 and re-branded them Fold3, and the ruining of their previous excellent digitization commenced shortly thereafter.  So, I’ve come to expect a level of inferiority with Ancestry’s records, despite their voluminous collection which continues to grow at an almost exponential rate, complete with errors and bizarre attributions. What those of us who use period records a lot call source citations. Which brings me to my recent experience.

So, imagine my surprise when, clicking on an database link titled U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 and  being shown a lengthy profile – complete with the subject’s image – which I compiled back in 2000! and had posted on the subject’s  profile page. Stupid me, I was expecting an actual profile found perhaps in some military directory. Instead, I get my own compilation, rendered in their source citation as being (I love this part,) “… a compilation of military records (including state rosters, pension records, and regimental histories) of individual soldiers who served in the United States Civil War.”

Really? So which one am I? A roster, a pension record?  It’s hard to tell, because last time I checked, I was a just an member. I know, I know, their disclaimer tells me that everything I deposit on those profiles is theirs to do with as they please, but must they try to pass off non-official compilations as official records?  Must they cherry-pick members’ data, toss it in a genealogical heap and then extrude it back to dues-paying members as a database with an impressive-sounding title? Besides, they have a “stories and photos” category for that. Somehow seeing my own handiwork recycled back to me – and charged a fee for the pleasure of accessing it  seems genealogically cheesy, or am I just being overly-sensitive and under-appreciative of the behemoth that has become

Since I wrote that Civil War soldier’s profile,  I’ve added a few stories and profiles. But I learned to use a copyright bug on each one and to convert them to PDF before uploading them — two features the aforementioned profiled lacked. A safeguard  I would suggest my fellow genealogists also  use, unless you want to pay to revisit your own work via the pricey data recycling machine.


About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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