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How reliable is Ancestry's We're Related app?

Some time ago some friends of mine in a Facebook group I am in were all excited about an app launched by called We’re Related. Being the skeptical, cynical beast I am, I didn’t quite believe their links so decided to download it myself and see what results it came up with.


Well! It seems I’m related to a variety of people. First it came up with Charles Darwin, Katharine Hepburn, ee cummings, (former US President) Zachary Taylor (no I didn’t know he was a president either!!) and Senator John McCain. In the next few days it popped up a couple of new relations – Janis Joplin, Julia Child, Jon Hamm (which I was most excited about as he one of my favourite actors!) and director/producer Joss Whedon.


But how accurate is it?


To answer that we have to know how the app works. Pretty much it takes the data on your tree and compares it with already existing trees for a celebrity.  However if you don’t have the connection on your tree, it goes to publically available member trees and takes the data from that.


And that is where the problem with this app lies. Other member’s trees on Ancestry (and to be fair, on all the sites) are notoriously incorrect. People get someone with the same name and just add him or her to their tree from the hint given by Ancestry without checking the providence. I will admit I do look at the member’s tree when I’m given a hint by Ancestry but I use them as a jumping off point. For example, if it tells me Mary Jones married William Smith in 1884 in Hertfordshire, I’ll go and check the GRO records and other sites for proof of this marriage before I add it.


So lets have a look at one of my relations according to the app. Jon Hamm is an actor who is supposed to be my 8th cousin. Our common ancestor is a man called Jonas Williams who apparently lived between 1682 and 1749.


My link to Jonas is as follows:


And this is Jon’s link to Jonas Williams.


Richard Balding is my 3rd great grandfather and the last link in that line to live their entire life in England. His son, Alfred, was the Balding who migrated to Australia in the 1860’s.


I have confirmed my tree to Amelia Wright, Richard’s mother. From there the app has taken information from member’s trees to link up three generations to Jonas Williams.


The app states that Amelia’s father is a man called Daniel Wright 1759 to 1838. I’ve looked this man up on Ancestry and the man linked to the photo that the app uses (the gravestone above) was a man born and lived in the USA. He sounds like a remarkable man! He fought in the US war of independence and was a founding settler of parts of Virginia. However, my Amelia was born in England and from what I can see, never left Berkshire so the likelihood of this Daniel being the father of my 4th great grandmother is extremely small! I don’t know who Amelia’s father was but I think we can conclude that its not this man.


So it seems the app has got it wrong and sadly I’m not related to Jon Hamm. It also means I’m not related to Joss Whedon, Julia Childs, Janis Joplin or John McCain. 


The app I think, is just a bit of fun. Its not a serious genealogical tool and should not be used as such. Its also a reminder to NEVER rely on the member’s trees on Ancestry or any site as they are more often wrong than right.