Ancestry LifeStory: The Life Lived in the Dash
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As a genealogist, I love putting the puzzle of the family tree together.  I love the process of reasonably exhaustive searches and analysis and correlation of evidence. I love how one genealogical question leads to another and those questions lead to records that lead to more questions.  It's exciting to share that "thrill of the hunt" with other genealogists. But, when it comes time to share with my family, they want to know who these people were, what they did for work, how they lived, who they loved. We often identify people in our family tree by name and then a birth date and a death date.  A grandfather can show up in your online tree and family history reports as Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980).  It's easy to fill in those blanks and move on.  But, it's also important to remember that there is a whole life that was lived in the dash between those two dates.  In order to truly honor his memory and to ensure that our living family members (the ones who aren't all that into genealogy but all love a good story) actually pay attention, we need to take the dry facts about the life of Herbert and weave them into a story that will last.  It's one of the only ways all of our hard work is likely to have a lasting effect on our family. There is another benefit of putting together the story of "the life lived in the dash." The process of taking all those facts and weaving them into a story forces me to look at the same information in a different way.  It causes the holes and inconsistencies in my research to float to the surface and guides me in additional research.  Facts that don't make sense are easier to spot when you read through the story.

Narratives

With the new Ancestry LifeStory, we take the facts you have collected, let you upload pictures and documents, and weave in historical happenings that may have influenced your ancestors and their life choices.  An automated process gets you started.  There is a summary narrative at the top of the page that summarizes the person's life in 4-5 sentences.  As you move through the LifeStory page you will also see event narratives.  These short sentences appear for births, marriages, and deaths that occur in the life of the individual.

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Now, sometimes these summary narratives or event narratives may seem a little odd.  One reason could be that you have attached the wrong record, the wrong spouse, or the wrong date to a person.  We've all done it.  The good news is that this new LifeStory view makes it easier to discover those mistakes and fix them. We'll talk more about the new Facts View another time. But, all of the information we are using to create this LifeStory come from the facts you have already created, the records you have already attached, and the relationships you have already connected to this person.  So, if you find something in the LifeStory view that isn't correct, just flip over the Facts View to add the right information, delete the wrong information, or correct the relationship that got confused. Once you get some of those errors cleaned up, remember that there is more to the story your ancestors' lives than the bare facts.  There is information in family stories that goes beyond what is documented in records.  Think about that time your dad got that nasty scar at Uncle Bob's ranch or that one Thanksgiving where the kids got together and planned an impromptu theatrical performance.  LifeStory narratives are a good start.  But, the story can be so much richer.  To that end, we let you edit the narratives to tell your story the way you want - as robust and colorful as your family's history.

Photos, Maps and Historical Insights

Nothing makes a family history more colorful than great pictures.  LifeStory gives you tools to organize your photos so they support and enrich your family stories. (Watch this blog for more about Media Gallery later.) Part of the LifeStory is a view into the places that were the backdrop of your ancestors' lives.  These locations come directly from the places you have entered on your ancestors' facts and placed on a map.  This is a great way to learn more about the settings that determined the opportunities and challenges they faced.  It will also highlight any errors you may have made while researching.  If a location doesn't make sense to you, or to our computers, it will become apparent pretty quickly.

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One of the final touches we've added to LifeStory is Historical Insights.  To understand the story of your ancestor it is crucial to know the historical context in which they were living. Based on facts and sources you have for your ancestor, we try to find events in history that might be relevant to tell the ancestor's story. They work like hints, only instead of having a record or a photo behind the leaf they have a curated page with richer content about that episode in history. They appear on the LifeStory timeline for you to review. We target Historical Insights so they work most of the time, but we realize they don't always fit. Sometimes insights are irrelevant for the person and sometimes it's just not an interesting part of their life story. Just click to ignore and it will go away.

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I'm excited about the opportunities LifeStory opens up for me.  This view helps me find my own errors and correct them so that I'm representing the truth about my ancestors' lives.  It also helps me recreate the stories of their ancestors' lives with features not previously available in a way that engages the imaginations and memories of the rest of my family. I can't wait to hear what new things you discover and create with the Ancestry LifeStory.