The Ancestral File was originally envisioned to be a large database of ancestral information that links together individuals with families.
The ancestral file is a single version of all the information submitted to it from all submitters.
It contains information that has been voluntarily donated to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even members of the Church may not find their information in this repository if someone hasn't voluntarily donated it.
The Information is Free
The Ancestral File is free to the public and can be accessed at http://www.familysearch.org/. However, due to right to privacy laws in the USA and other countries, personal event dates are not shown until the person either dies or is 95 years old.
[Information about] those younger show as either <Living> or as a name without the event dates added. This is not normally a problem, as most people know who their parents and grandparents were.
You may have been told the Ancestral File is a gold mine, but is that really true?
I had an instructor once who continually phrased his questions so that the only correct answer was "it depends." This is also true of the Ancestral File.
Just as you don't find smelted gold made into fine jewelry in a mine, you might have to sift through some less than clean information in the Ancestral File.
Remember, the information is only as good as the researcher who donated it. Some researchers have done a very thorough job, others... not so thorough. In addition to the possible lack of documentation, there also arise honest differences of opinion.
Sifting Through the Information on File
For example, my ancestry goes back several generations without issue until reaching a person in dispute.
My Aunt believes the Father is one person and a distant relative believes the Father is someone else. Since I don't have any documentation from either, I tend to be skeptical of both at this point.
Depending on what point of time you would have downloaded information from the Ancestral File on the same family, you would have gotten two totally different pictures of the ancestral tree. Does this mean that the Ancestral File is not any good?
Certainly not, but again, the information it contains is only as good as the researchers that submitted it. For this reason, the LDS Church has offered a separate repository, the Pedigree Resource File.
The Pedigree Resource File
This repository allows researchers to submit a copy of their own personal research. It will not be combined with data from other researchers, it will remain intact, as submitted by the researcher in question.
At this time familysearch.org accepts GEDCOM files over the internet for inclusion into the Pedigree Resource File and possible inclusion into the Ancestral File. However, the Family Search program at LDS Family History locations can specify changes to information on the Ancestral File directly.
Depending on the amount of effort and accuracy others have dedicated to finding their ancestry, the Ancestral File can be a real treasure chest. In working with a couple interested in genealogy, I was able to extract up to 7,000 names for each mother and father line... for both the husband and the wife!
Unfortunately, due to the fact that so much had already been done on their lines, they didn't feel the need to get very involved afterward.
Another example is of a woman I was helping who was able to find the name of a Mother in her ancestry. Being curious, she looked up the Mother's name in the Ancestral File and found not only the Mother, but 460+ names more that had been submitted by someone else on a lateral line.
All of the research she had done up to this point had been original research, some of it stretching back to the original American pilgrims. It was the first time she knew of where someone else had already done the work.
To sum up, yes the Ancestral File is a gold mine... if you are careful to sift through the dirt to find the gold.
Ancestry Video by Barefoot Geneologist
The top tricks and tips for using Ancestry.com
About the author of this article
Dale Lee is a computer consultant who has been involved in Genealogy for over 12 years. For information on how to publish your own Family History or book manuscript, visit http://www.LeeSysInfo.com if it is still in operation.