Friday, October 21, 2016

We're Related.... Or Are We?

Have you checked out the new app from Ancestry called We're Related?

The description in the App Store reads, in part,  "Find fame and friendships in your family.  We're Related is a free app that helps you discover if you are related to famous people and your circle of friends."

This description is enough to get a genealogist's hackles up right away.  Most serious family historians are uncomfortable about the emphasis some genealogy companies have placed on finding connections to famous people.  It may draw curiosity seekers to their websites, but it rarely seems to result in sound research or long-term retention of budding genealogists.  It's always fun to find notables in your family tree, but this is absolutely not the point of genealogy.

That said, I was too curious about this new app to ignore it. I downloaded it, signed in with my Ancestry login, and waited for the results.  Here's who We're Related thinks are my famous cousins:

  • Johnny Depp (9th cousin)
  • Paul McCartney (8th cousin 1x removed)
  • Luke Bryan (6th cousin 6x removed)
  • Winston Churchill (7th cousin 2x removed)
  • John Kerry (8th cousin 2x removed)

What's interesting about this list is that We're Related believes all five of these people are connected to me through my Griffin ancestors.  Readers of this blog know this is a family that has been rather unknown to me until recently, and one that I'm still actively researching.  These famous folks supposedly are all connected to me via the Griffin, Thorne and Carpenter lines that stretch back to seventeenth century England. However, the connections seem to be at least a couple generations beyond what I think can be proven.  I haven't even seen some of these names listed as potential but unproven ancestors in the many databases I've mined for information on these families.  I'm not certain enough of this part of my lineage to immediately rule out the possibility of connection, but it appears that We're Related is almost certainly using suspect, unsourced genealogies to connect users with famous faces.  Can we thank those notoriously inaccurate user trees on Ancestry for this mess?

It's puzzling that the results came only from one family line.  I have several other lines that stretch back through Colonial America to England, and those ancestors produced a tremendous number of descendants.  There are no famous cousins from those families?  That seems incredibly unlikely.

I wish that We're Related would let you click on the supposed ancestors they show connecting you to the famous personalities.  They provide you with names and dates, but the app is not sufficiently interactive.  I had to close the app and go to Ancestry to look up the names.  Another issue with this app is that you can only look up the connections for one person in your tree.  After reviewing my alleged cousins, I wanted to try this for my husband.  Unfortunately, We're Related will not allow you to choose a new person in your tree and view their matches.  Actually, it will allow you to select a different person, but it won't generate new cousins for them.  This seems short sighted.  Basically, this app is a one trick pony.  You can review potential famous cousins for one person in your tree, and that's it.  Then, you must leave the app to investigate those connections further.

My curiosity satisfied, this app was promptly deleted from my phone.

Maybe this is why the connections appear faulty.
The app encourages users to add "guesses" as to who their ancestors might have been.  


  1. Ugh. This is the part of Ancestry that really frustrates me as well. I realize some may not be interested in it to learn how their families fit into history, but guesses are for notepads - not for someone else to rely upon as even possible fact. Ancestry runs on money and I guess they feel that they need to attract people through any and every conceivable tactic, even if it means results aren't accurate. :(

    1. Hi Erin! I completely agree. I tend to give Ancestry a pass on a lot of things because I find their database and services incredibly valuable. That said, I can't get behind any venture that blatantly encourages people to fill their trees with fiction. That's totally unacceptable.

  2. Thanks for trying it out and reviewing it for all of us. I was very skeptical about this! Really Ancestry this what you call sound genealogical research? It is kind of like the app at Family search.

    1. I never tried that Family Search app but heard it was similarly disappointing. While I get that these sort of gimmicky apps might appeal to non-genealogists and potentially get them interested in family history, I don't think it's ever okay to suggest that people "guess" at their ancestors and treat it as fact. That is a slippery slope.