Ancestry.com’s new genealogy app will make you (feel) famous

Ancestry.com’s new genealogy app will make you (feel) famous

Would you believe an app that tells you that you're related to Obama? 

Ancestry.com just launched a new mobile app called We’re Related, which uses Ancestry.com family trees to identify which of roughly 2,000 historically notable people (authors, presidents, royalty, educators, musicians, etc.) you might be related to.

Among other features, the app lets you compare your family tree to those of famous celebrities and your Facebook friends, then share your results and encourage other people to join up as well.
 
But does the app reliably link you to famous kin? Let’s take a look.
 
 

Screenshot of We’re Related.

 

Celebrity skin 

Once you download the free We’re Related app, you’ll be asked to sign in with your Facebook account. Next, the app will match you with one of the tens of thousands of public family trees on Ancestry.com, based on your name and Facebook family connections. Then, you’ll be asked to select a tree and identify yourself among the ancestor profiles. 

The app then runs an analysis and provides Insights, or individuals the app has flagged as being possible relatives based on your place in the family tree you selected.
 
For example, my fellow Family Tree Magazine staff members were matched with personalities as different as Barack Obama, George Custer and Elvis Presley. The app continues to identify new matches as they become available—even as I’m writing, I received a notification that I have a new Insight (Willie Nelson!).

Let’s look at one of my Insights matches, Ralph Waldo Emerson, as an example.

Ancestry.com's new genealogy app will make you (feel) famous 

Tap the Insights icon on the toolbar at the bottom of your screen to view possible matches. As you can see in the above picture, Emerson and I are predicted to be fifth cousins, eight times removed. You can read your match’s Wikipedia page by tapping his or her picture, or click the family tree icon beneath the image to view your suggested relationship.

How does it work?

Ancestry.com's new genealogy app will make you (feel) famous

 The app works by identifying a common ancestor between you and a number of famous individuals, whose family trees have been documented back through several generations. 

In my case, Emerson and I have a common ancestor in Temperance Bailey (1617–1647), an early Jamestown settler. By clicking the number and arrow on my side of the screen, I can see the ancestral line connecting me to Bailey. I could do the same for Emerson by clicking the number and arrow on his side.

According to this Insight, Temperance Bailey is my 12x-great-grandmother and Emerson’s 4x-great-grandmother.  

Ancestry.com's new genealogy app will make you (feel) famous

But here’s the catch: I’ve only personally documented that line of my family tree to Rebecca Fox (1837–1893), my 4x-great-grandmother and supposedly Temperance Bailey’s 7x-great-granddaughter. 

So… does it work?

What to make of that connection? Without having more evidence, I’m skeptical that it’s true. After all, how do I know that my Rebecca Fox is the same one who’s descended from Temperance Bailey? And how reliable is the information on Emerson’s family line, anyway? Only more research will tell. 

It’s fun, though! 

Given that it doesn’t rely on hard documentation, the We’re Related analysis is a fun way to share your findings with friends and family, but not proof that you’ve got celebrity blood. Rather, its findings are just hints or topics for further research, since most people’s Insights (like mine) rely on a significant leap of faith somewhere up the ancestral line.

Related Products

No Comments

Leave a Reply