I recently started on ancestry.com building my family history, starting from nothing to over 150 people in about a month. I see a number of member tree "hints" of interest but is there any way to tell how much data (people, etc.) another person has amassed without a paid account? I'm assuming I'll pay eventually but wanted to wait until I had built up my data. On the other hand, if there is a lot of data available, I'll pull the trigger sooner. I don't want to start paying to get access to some record just to find out it was a short-lived effort with nothing significant in it. Secondly, what is accessible in these public member trees? Everything they have posted? Thank you.

  • This isn't an answer, just a very strong caution not to take everything in member trees on Ancestry at face value; there is a lot of rubbish out there, and you will be storing up misery for yourself if you don't check everything you find with original sources and make up your own mind. Also, you might find a trial subscription to Ancestry helpful in answering your own question.
    – user104
    Feb 2, 2013 at 17:58
  • If you are planning on doing genealogical research then online family trees is the very LAST place you should be looking. You should be starting with yourself and documenting each generation back from you with evidence. Online family trees are neither evidence nor documentation; in truth, a great many of them are pure junk. Feb 2, 2013 at 19:44
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    @AndyHatchett: "other peoples' trees" on ancestry.com are indeed neither evidence nor documentation, and indeed a great many of them are pure junk, but in my experience they are helpful in pointing you towards names and dates which you can then investigate properly. Feb 2, 2013 at 23:08
  • I couldn't stand the suspense any longer and signed up for the free trial. The member trees ended up not being as useful as I had hoped but still gave me so info I didn't have. Thanks for all your comments.
    – Mike
    Feb 5, 2013 at 4:06

1 Answer 1


[1] Tree sizes (without an active subscription)

  • if you have a tree owner's user name, you can access their profile page*. Often, the names and people counts of their public trees are listed. The profile may include other personal information or uploaded items that may help you access their interest in your family line.

*Profile pages can be found by searching the Member Directory, found under the "Collaborate" tab. User names are entered in "Basic Information", or use surnames and/or locations in "Research Interests".

  • searching Family Trees will give a list of tree names that contain matches; unfortunately only the private tree matches will link to the tree owner's name and tree size (with or without a subscription). Public tree matches either let you in (subscribed) or link to the subscription page (not subscribed)

[2] Accessibility in public trees (with an active subscription)

  • information on living people is hidden (i.e. names, birth and death dates/locations, timeline entries, attached sources). Relationships ARE shown in the family column and in the charts. Further access needs an invitation from the tree owner. Sometimes names can be identified if you are coming to the tree from an attached document image.
  • information on persons with death dates (or badly formatted dates or with missing birthdates) is visible to all subscribed or invited visitors - names, dates, timeline entries, attached documents and pictures, sources, charts, links to related persons. HomePersons and lists of all persons (exc the privatized) are accessible.
  • tree owner name links to their profile page*, see above, which may also show other trees they own

[3] Assessing potential tree hints

  • When I visit a tree, I try to determine the relationship of the tree owner to the person I am searching: do they have more intimate knowledge of the family, are they in direct line, etc. Are there attached document sources, are there careless mistakes, are they missing or mis-interpreting obvious clues? I check the owner's profile page: what are their interests, how active are they? These will give a feel for the reliability of that portion of the tree. Sometimes a beginner just needs a little help, sometimes it's clear that it's hopelessly wrong, sometimes I find the clue I need to proceed in my research. I might leave a comment or contact the tree owner, depending on my assessment and their indicated interests.
  • +1 " ... try to determine the relationship of the tree owner to the person I am searching: do they have more intimate knowledge of the family, are they in direct line, etc." P.S. The larger the tree, the more difficult it can be to learn that relationship.
    – GeneJ
    Feb 2, 2013 at 19:03
  • When I can't determine the exact relationship or even the connecting surname (sometimes through spouses), I put a LOT more weight on sourcing and diligence.
    – bgwiehle
    Feb 2, 2013 at 19:27

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