How Is Digitizing Your Family History Back To The 12th Century

These questions originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answers by Tim Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ancestry, on Quora.

A: There is a natural and universal desire to know who we are and where we come from. Ancestry gives people the tools to discover more about themselves by uncovering unique family stories and documents, by connecting with relatives (known and unknown), by building out their family tree, and through our AncestryDNA test. Family history has traditionally been an interest that only true enthusiasts/hobbyists could pursue, but we've worked hard over the years to make the site easier and more accessible for more people. There is a huge emotional payoff when you start making discoveries and understanding the stories of your ancestors. There is also a powerful network effect happening at Ancestry, as more and more people use us a platform for discovering and preserving their family history.


A: Many of the world's historical records are deteriorating faster than we can save them, and natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires and floods only hasten their destruction.

Ancestry works with governments, archives, and private groups all around the world to digitize and therefore preserve these historical treasures. With budget constraints and competing priorities, governments are less and less in the business of funding these preservation activities themselves, so Ancestry provides a valuable service to these groups.

The actual digitization involves digitally capturing the image from its original paper or microfilm and then transcribing these hand-written documents to help our users find their ancestors in these documents. We do this at huge scale around the world.

We acquire content such as census data, vital records, and newspapers which are digitized, indexed and then stored in our searchable database. Many of these records we acquire come from old, warn, torn and faded documents and we have to do some difficult work to restore these images and make them readable. Today we have 17 billion historical records from 80 different countries. Our earliest records date back to the 11th century.


A: The true power of AncestryDNA is most easily realized when it's integrated with the 70 million family trees and billions of historical records on, which power even deeper family discoveries.

The AncestryDNA test will reveal cousin matches whether you have attached your test results to a tree or not. However, in order to understand more about those cousin matches and to encourage them to work with you to uncover your common ancestors, it's important to have a tree on Ancestry with your AncestryDNA results attached to it.

Once your tree is connected, our technologies will do the searching to help you make discoveries. For example, DNA Circles link you to additional AncestryDNA members with the same common ancestor, thus creating a "circle" of people who are all related. This tool makes it easier to share information and do more with your new-found cousins. Plus, having a DNA Circle for a common ancestor gives you more confidence that you and others share DNA because you inherited it from this ancestor. Another take on this is through New Ancestor Discoveries, through which we can sometimes find possible ancestors going back as far as the 1700's simply by comparing your DNA test results to other members in our network.

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