Ancestry.comI’m not going to front, has been very, very good to me!:)

I can still find online 13-year-old queries from my early days when in pursuit of all things WINGFIELD and CODY! Fast forward 14+ years, with an abundance of genealogy data acquired and a transformed family history to share, I frequently turn to Ancestry to support my work.

So yes, I’m an advocate for and long-time user of Ancestry’s genealogy tools.

I am hopeful my product knowledge combined with the fact I’ve launched online technology applications for as long as I’ve used Ancestry, gives credence to my ask that Ancestry’s Business Analysts, User Experience Leads, Information Architects and Application Developers consider updating the current Ancestry Leaf Hint [a.k.a. Shaky Green Leaf] functionality and user experience.

It’s time for a 1.2 or 2.0 [or whatever version Ancestry deems it] enhancement of the Shaky Green Leaf experience offered to users presently. Why? Because though the core requirement (provide customers a user-friendly means of introducing “hints” to support family tree building) has been met, there are user experience considerations and a few business requirements to update and/or add.

Based on our understanding Shaky Green Leaf  functionality has been introduced and applied by Ancestry users, here’s my technical wish list of modifications:

User Experience & Functionality:

  • Coach Marks. To support an enhanced [and more informed] Shaky Green Leaf (SGL) experience, add concise, dynamic “coach marks” to guide customers through using the tool. Taking into consideration customers come to Ancestry with ancestor tunnel vision, and traditionally spend little time seeking-out explicit instructions. Just like the SGL Hints, coach marks must be user-friendly and easily accessible to add value. Check-out these Mobile Patterns coach mark examples!
  • Update HELP Content. Published in 2009 and last updated in 2012 the Hints Help Section hasn’t kept-up with how quickly our technology needs change. The same coach mark rule applies — clear, concise messaging to support user needs.
  • Error Handling/Messaging. Currently if 2 or more SGL Hints are accepted, there’s no error handling and/or messaging to alert the user of the conflict. As suggested by Marissa ARTERBERRY, a member of my African American Genealogy and Slave Ancestry Research (AAGSAR) group, “Ancestry should have a way to flag trees with errors, the way Wikipedia does with caution disclaimers when pages cite unverified information“. I agree. There should be some type of messaging and/or functional alert presented to alert users to data/records conflicts.
  • Functionality to Combine Person Data. Another AAGSAR Member, Kristin CLEAGE pointed out the ability to combine people on an existing tree would help prevent users from inadvertently duplicating a person’s record in error. As far as I can tell there are no user-friendly instructions to support customers with completing this task. If the functionality does exist, perhaps this is another instance where coach marks could be leveraged?
  • User Considerations. Given the rise in genealogy interest over the past few years, I’m thrilled so many consumers (and potential cousins) are turning to However, new users of any technology tool require more hand-holding than seasoned/experienced users. A learning-curve should be accounted for when considering new technology implementations. When used properly smart technology can greatly enhance our efforts, but when applied in error, it can make our research efforts even more challenging.

An user with a public family tree currently has my 4th Grandfather Philip CARTER (Wilkes County, GA) attached to 4 wives and 25+ children; an error created by “accepting” all of the suggested Shaky Green Leaf Hints. Though I’ve provided details to allow validation of my Philip CARTER, the requested correction hasn’t occurred. I believe part of the delay is the fact the new researcher really doesn’t understand how to use the tool and/or correct the error.

I do understand and accept cannot meet the diverse needs of every user. However, the only way technology enhancements really benefit users is when it evolves to meet our needs and lifestyle demands. Technology must get smarter as we do — and educate/coach us along the way! :)

With the New Year please consider delivering a new and improved Shaky Green Leaf with enhanced features! It’s time!

TECH hat off. For now!:)


Additional Reference: Going Beyond The Shaky Leaf ~ Ancestry Blog