Insider Look at New Features Coming to Member Trees

By Diane Haddad is beta testing a new website “experience” to make it easier for members to discover and tell the stories of their family history. The changes are based on research over the past year to gather user feedback.

I’ve been taking part in the beta test, and those going to next week’s RootsTech/FGS joint conference can, too, if they stop by the booth to sign up. If you’re not going to RootsTech, you can join a wait list to be added by clicking here. You can go back and forth between the current version and beta version.

The whole site looks different in the beta test, cleaner and much more modern, but the most substantial updates as yet are in the Ancestry Member Trees. The major changes include:

  • A LifeStory view that adds a narrative to your ancestors’ facts and events, turning it into more of a story. You can edit the narratives for individual events to flesh out the story and make it sound less automated.

    One thing I very much like about this updated is that you can opt to see “family events” in a person’s Lifestory and the Facts view. That automatically adds the births and deaths of the person’s children, and deaths of his or her spouse and parents, when you add these events to the family members’ profiles.

  • Historical Insights,” or information about historical events that your ancestors may have experienced, are added to his Lifestory and Facts. You can opt into or out of seeing these, and edit or delete individual events.
  • A new Facts view makes it “easier to validate facts with sources, and edit and review facts.” When you click on a fact, you can see the source it’s linked to, and vice versa.
  • A new Media Gallery. It looks like you’ll eventually be able to drag a digital image into the gallery, but right now this is very much like the current Media Gallery.

Here’s a beta Tree view of one part of my tree (you also can use the Pedigree view to see just ancestors):

The Lifestory page turns the events you’ve entered as a relative’s Facts into a narrative, and displays them on a timeline along with any attached images, a mini-tree and map. Clicking on the map lets you zoom in to see pins for places of birth, marriage, residence, death, and other facts you’ve added to your tree. Pins are for towns or cities, not addresses, so you can’t (yet?) map a family’s moves within the same city.

My second-great-grandfather’s Lifestory is long, because I’ve attached a lot of records to his life events. Here’s the top of the page:

To give you an idea of the length, here’s a screen capture of a part of H.A. Seeger’s Lifestory. Scrolling through all of it might bug some (if you don’t attach images to a person’s events, the Lifestory would be shorter):

I don’t have many pictures of this family, but the Lifestory would look really cool with photos among the record images

On the Facts page, you’ll see the facts you’ve added, plus any sources. You can click on a Source and see which facts it’s attached to:

The Source features in beta aren’t yet functional (you can leave beta to use them). I’m not sure how or whether they’ll change, but I hope they do. I’ve found the system for creating Sources in Ancestry trees cumbersome and confusing, so I usually bypass it and instead include a citation in an event description, or in the image description for an uploaded record.

I also tend to add notes using the Comments tab that’s in individual profiles in the current version of site. The beta tree doesn’t have a Comments view, but comments will be incorporated somehow.

To give you a peek at the rest of the site, here’s the beta site’s advanced search form. It looks similar to the current search form, and contains the same options:

( is separately testing a new advanced search form, which has the same filters and fields, but looks different. Anyone can opt into and out of the new advanced search form using a link at the bottom of the form.)

Here’s the Card Catalog page on the beta site. It works like the current Card Catalog; it’s just a little polished up:

It’s not clear when these features would roll out on the main site, and keep in mind they’re being refined as beta testing continues.

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