Your Ancestor is Not a Flower or Tree on Ancestry

Stop using flags, flowers, and other graphics on Ancestry.com trees #ancestry #genealogy

Online genealogy is a wonderful way to collaborate, and I highly encourage you to put your trees online and take advantage of the research hints that many database services provide. I love receiving clues about new-to-me records about my ancestors. I am especially ecstatic when there is a newly discovered photo of my ancestor in my hint queue.

What I cringe at are pictures of trees, flowers, and flags!

STOP posting these unnecessary graphics on Ancestry.com. You’re wasting the hinting feature resources and causing a lot of eye-rolling over here.

Hints for my 5th great-grandmother on Ancestry.com

How exciting! New Hints for my 5th great-grandmother

Notice this profile of my 5th great-grandmother Amelia Mathews born 1741 in Pennsylvania and died about 1816 in Virginia. Truthfully, Amelia is on TOO MANY family trees, in conjunction with her husband, Robert Dickey. Many of the trees are poorly researched and conflicting. I don’t know if I’ll ever be interested in investigating this headache of a line. But, Ancestry likes to send me hints for Amelia, so I peek every so often.

Your Ancestor Isn't a Plants and Title Slides on Ancestry

The hints for my grandmother on Ancestry.com

Oh, joy! Look at these fabulous suggestions. Let the sighs and eye-rolling commence. Seriously, why are these images put on the profiles of our ancestors at Ancestry.com?

Your Ancestor Isn't a Flower on Ancestry V. 1

State Flower of Pennsylvania

Every profile before the rise of photography does not need a picture. Adding the state flower Pennsylvania to an ancestor’s profile is meaningless. The state flower for this state wasn’t discussed until the 1930s! That’s over 180 years after Amelia was born! And, she was living in Virginia when she died. Wouldn’t the Virginia flower be an appropriate choice as well? Do we know that Amelia liked said flower?

Your Ancestor Isn't a Flower on Ancestry V. 2
Random flower for Amelia

Oh, look! Now she has a random flower that the person uploading the flower did not share why they used the flower. At least the ‘state flower of Pennsylvania’ caption has some reasonable sense. But this?

When I prepared to share this post counseling you to not share unrelated photos of your ancestors on Ancestry.com, I hadn’t expected the third graphic hint for Amelia.

Your Ancestor Isn't an End Screen

I’m so confused why this is on Ancestry.com for Amelia

What do you mean “The End”? The end of the line? The end of the discussion of her lineage? The end of what? If this is a note to yourself in your research, why is this photo public? Erg. Poor Amelia, she’s “The End” but yet only the beginning.

Your Ancestor Isn't a Flag on Ancestry

So my ancestors are now flags and seals?

Where do I start with flags and seals? This ancestor lived in Virginia, but guess what! The flag shown here was not adopted at the state flag until 1860. Good thing because the state would be entering the Civil War a few years later and would need a banner to hold aloft to rally the troops. But my ancestor with this images? Yeah.

He didn’t live during the Civil War. So, why are these flags used? He didn’t hold Virginia public office. He didn’t create the seal or the flag. Therefore, my ancestor should not have these images in his media gallery. They do nothing to tell his story because it’s a symbol not seen during his lifetime.

Please avoid adding or uploading flags for your ancestor’s profile unless they have a story that directly relates to its creation. I mean, if your ancestor raised the banner of Iwo Jima, then maybe that flag should appear in their media gallery. But for most people, they don’t have a direct connection to the state flags so, don’t post them!

Your Ancestor Isn't a Ship on Ancestry V. 1

Unspecified Ship Images on Ancestry.com

While I’m talking about my ancestors not being flowers, trees, or flags, let’s discuss the ships people attach to their profiles. A random boat as a graphic in the media gallery on Ancestry.com is pointless if there is no ship name connected to the said image. And it’s also visually misleading to add a ship graphic that likely did not resemble the ship your ancestor rode on across the ocean. Tell the visual truth, please.

Sure ship photos are added to suggest to the profile creator/viewer that the person in question was an immigrant. In fact, some people make it clear that the ship graphic has that message.

Your Ancestor Isn't a Ship on Ancestry V. 2

My ancestor is an immigrant ‘generic’ media graphic

However, such graphics are not unique. If I had added this photo to FamilySearch and then had my children play LittleFamilyTree’s matching game or the similar game at AncestorGuru, we would have a lot of matches that don’t match even though the images are the same. Additionally, when I view a portrait family tree and find these generic ship symbols as photos, it is redundant and wastes printed ink to the published trees.

If you do discover a visual representation of the ship on which your ancestor sailed, then, by all means, add that photo and then use the caption feature to explain the connection. Otherwise, please stop adding these images.

Finally, if you come across images such as these, please don’t add them to your tree.

Ancestry Already Has a silhouette V. 1

What if your lineage changes based on new information now you have a misleading image
Your Ancestor Isn't a Tree on Ancestry

You thought I was kidding when I said my ancestor wasn’t a tree!

The relationships created by linking your ancestors together is the family tree. There is no need to upload an unidentified graphic of a tree for your relative’s profile. If the media image is a piece of art they created, then please share and tell us the story of their arboreal masterpiece. If you can’t stand that the portrait spot for your ancestor is blank, get over it. They lived pre-photography days, or their portraits were never created or were destroyed. A tree or silhouette is not a representation of your ancestor.

To sum up, don’t turn our ancestors into trees, flowers, and flags on Ancestry.com. You’re wasting hinting resources and creating a lot of grumblings for researchers on the other end. Makes those Ancestry.com family trees less appealing which defeats the purpose of sharing your tree online – to collaborate with potential cousins!

Instead, share photos that genuinely connect your relative with a place or time. FYI: Most of those images will be modern.

Don't use unnecessary images on your Ancestry.com family tree. It's clutter and distracting. #ancestry #onlinegenealogy#genealogy
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

29 thoughts on “Your Ancestor is Not a Flower or Tree on Ancestry

  1. I soooo agree! While I like a state or a flag once in awhile, flowers???? For what purpose? Plus, when one is researching, those take up valuable time ( wasted!). I am looking for facts, not "cute'.

  2. Elizabeth. I hear you. Deselect photos would be a great solution. However, that's how I find out folks are stealing my father's photo and are so remotely related. I need to write that post as well.

  3. Oh Linda. Please say it isn't so. I haven't noticed photo hints on MyHeritage yet. Perhaps my tree is one the wee side. But I will seriously need hair implants if I pull out too many follicles with flags and flowers over there.

  4. Gravestones are not a problem because they are genealogical documents and are often the only photo a person has of an ancestor from 'time before cameras'. The only caveat is if the headstone is posted multiple times. Just tag the common photo. That makes me smile.

  5. It happens a lot when you're in the Civil War, American Revolution, or Immigrant generations. However, some people do strange things in any generation. Be warned. It's really frustrating.

  6. I have not come across this yet. Maybe because I'm still working on documentation for our grandparents' generation. Or maybe I have not checked the "photos" box. There is so much I don't know.

  7. You're welcome. I know folks use them as visual clues for their tree climbing efforts. But yes, they're not clues. They're clutter.

  8. Thank you for sharing this! Yes, it is an extremely annoying waste of time rejecting all those useless photos of flags, flowers, family crests, etc. They are not hints and are not helpful!

  9. YES, YES, YES… It seems the YOUNGER generation that are just starting their Genealogy research has to be noticed with something CUTE! ICONS doesn’t help others in their research. I was looking at what others had posted in their picture files the other day and found a PHOTO of an ancestor, this ancestor died in 1819, the first PHOTO of a person was in 1838, COULDN’T have been a photo of this ancestor! ALSO, there was a image of THIS ancestor’s CIVIL WAR pension card…he was dead during the CIVIL WAR! Tried to contact the individuals and tell them, “Ugh, this doesn’t fit”…never heard from them. ALSO, it is very IRRITATING for researchers to say their SOURCE is Ancestry.com, come on people…Ancestry.com is a great tool, BUT it is NOT a source, it is a REPOSITORY for information. I find MANY sources on Ancestry.com and it is a lot easier then it was 30+ years ago of finding GOOD information, LOVE THIS DIGITIZED AGE. Well that is my 2 cents worth, doing research the OLD FASHIONED way has taught me to be SKEPTICAL/CAUTIOUS of other researcher’s information and NOT to be a PLUG & PLAY researcher! Thanks!!!

    1. Joseph, thanks for your many thoughts on this topic. To be sure, I’m not a fan of ‘filling in’ the photo spot with anything other than a picture of a person, an object they owned, a place they lived in, or their gravestone. After that, I give up.

      My favorite ‘source’ is one of my old online trees from 1994 that was so riddled with mistakes that I took it down. Every source should be viewed with a skeptical eye, especially compiled trees in print or online.

  10. I’ve always found them such an annoying waste of time to have to weed through. I do like that Ancestry now offers the opportunity for feedback when you “Ignore” a hint. I complain about these useless, generic images every single time. Probably for naught, but…

    I have to admit, though, I found one slightly convincing argument for using them, though I think there are much better workarounds. Some people have mentioned using them to link categories of people, e.g. all of their Dutch ancestors who might be in different lines by using the Dutch flag with all of them. In theory it’s not a bad idea, but I suspect most of them don’t apply it properly and just add the same individual, generic picture to each person rather than adding it once and then adding connected people to that same instance of the image.

    In any case, I wish the Ancestry photo hints would have a little more granularity – e.g. narrowing by document or portrait. I’ve found some amazing pictures others have posted, making some wonderful discoveries including a family diary I’d been searching for over 30 years. Worth the hassle to weed through the junk images in the long run.

    1. Thanks for your insights Karen. I have a better way to groups those Dutch Ancestors – My Tree Tags (https://youtu.be/PyiDzA-beA8 ) This is a new feature rolled out in 2019 and it’s UNDER UTILIZED. It would reduce the need to ‘decorate’ trees because the tags can also serve as a filter!

      By cluttering the tree with these graphics, it makes the discoveries like you mentioned (the diary) hard to find. *sigh*

  11. I hadn’t known about the Tags – those are wonderful! I also like the color coding in the desktop version, though it’s far more limited than the tags are. Thanks for mentioning them! Back in the earliest days of online genealogy I used to use all caps for people I was confident about including, having good, primary documentation and so on, but lower case for people I wasn’t sure about. What a long way we’ve come from then, though I still use that trick 🙂

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