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Which Ancestry MyTreeTags should you use on your family tree?

Ancestry MyTreeTags

In a previous post, I covered the basics of how to add Ancestry’s MyTreeTags to your ancestor’s profile and hinted at how they can help you sort our ancestors. This post will dive deep into the various tags and make sense of them.

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Understand the Definitions Behind Each MyTreeTag

Before you add an Ancestry MyTreeTag to your ancestor’s profile, you must understand the complications that can develop if you haphazardly add the tags.

As shown in the past, not everyone uses, and it’s tree-building tools in the same way. Additionally, not everyone has the same understanding of “universal” words in genealogy. Therefore, the MyTreeTags can quickly become a muddle, rather than a helpful tool, if people use tags in unintended or non-universal ways.

Therefore, let’s examine each set of Ancestry MyTreeTags and how we should use them.

Types of MyTreeTags

There are two categories of Ancestry MyTreeTags, from the developer’s standpoint. There are universal tags and custom tags.

  1. Universal tags include comment biographical events or research status that researchers frequently seek to add to their trees.

  2. Custom tags include tags that are not common among all family trees but can apply to multiple individuals within a specific tree.

Unfortunately, the universal tags do not always have universal meanings and applications. It’s important to view the definitions Ancestry associates with each term (click on the “?” icon beside each MyTreeTag.) Otherwise, the tags use their universal nature.

Let’s review the Universal Tags in order of easiest to the most complex to utilize.

Universal MyTreeTags – Life Experience Tags

Ancestry has already changed this from “Reference Tags” to “Life Experience” since the beta rollout. Personally, I think these tags “Biographical Details” is a better category name.

These tags are self-explanatory:

  1. Immigrant

  2. Military Service

  3. Royalty/Nobility

Most family trees may have these three categories to tag their ancestors (in fact, these are the most popular ‘graphics’ people use to decorate their ancestors.”

If you want to be more specific with your immigrant ancestor tags, such as German to America, you’ll need to add a custom tag, which is discussed later.

Universal MyTreeTags – Relationship Tags

This category of Ancestry MyTreeTags are valuable, but the implementation of the tags on the tree still needs some improvement.

Adopted into / adopted out of

Of the relationship tags, this one is the MOST confusing. MyTreeTags do not appear in the ‘family chart’ box, but under the person’s name on a profile page or a pop-up on a chart. How can you determine if they were adopted into or out of a specific family?

I’ll likely create a custom tag for my few adoptees rather than use one of these tags.

I wish Ancestry would combine these two tags into one tag that says “Adopted” and then we can change the relationship links in the Edit Person screen to clearly identify who are the biological and adoptive parents.

Multiple Spouses, Never Married, No Children, Orphan

For the most part, these tags are clear and can help you remember these frequently occurring relationship facts on your tree.

However, you’ll need to use custom tags to be more specific about what multiple spouses mean? You could create one for divorce, widows, or polygamy.

Why would you use the multiple spouse tag if this fact is clearly shown on your tree?

I use it so I can ‘chop off’ a branch I’m not interested in maintaining. For instance, I descend from one wife of Andrew Nelson Smith. To keep my research tree small, I can ‘chop off’ his second wife and their children. The multiple spouse tag reminds me that he has another wife. (BTW: I keep information for the second wife over on FamilySearch.)

Died Young & Direct Ancestor

These MyTreeTags are universal but many researchers ask, “why to use them when the facts should be obvious on your research profiles?”

That’s a question we can discuss in the comments below. How do you use these tags, or do you use them at all?

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Universal MyTreeTags – Research Status Tags

Life Event and Relationship MyTreeTags, with the exception of one, are easy to understand and will likely not cause an unintended application of the tags to individual trees.

Now we begin to have Tags that cause a lot of confusion.

Actively Researching Tag

This tag is self-explanatory. You use it to mark who you are actively researching.

DO NOT tag each one of the 2,000+ names in your family tree. You are not actively researching each one and the filter soon becomes meaningless. It’s okay to tag just one line. You can always change your tags later.

Brick Wall Tag

This tag is self-explanatory. You can apply it to ancestors you are actively researching but you can also tag those you are stuck on and may come back to later.

What does the “Complete” MyTreeTag Mean?

The universality of the Ancestry MyTreeTags has ended.

Complete conjures up multiple means, so what does Ancestry say that it should mean?

The help prompt states Complete means: “I am confident that I have executed thorough searches to help answer my questions.”

This term could be universal if the following problems did not exist:

  1. A popular genealogy educator says this means, “I’m not going to research them further.”

  2. Another MyTreeTag, “Verified” has a similar definition, “I have done my best to verify the facts of this ancestor’s life with records which are attached.”

If Complete really means “I’m not researching” this person, then a more fitting tag is Actively Ignoring.

In other words, “I have researched this line but I’m focused on other parts of my tree.” I have several lines I’m actively ignoring (Clabaugh and Comfort are two).

If Complete is to retain such a similar definition to Verified, then we have a problem on our hands, which I’ll address in a moment.

What does the “Verified” MyTreeTag Mean?

Verified conjures multiple definitions as well. For Andy, verified means that someone has peer-reviewed his research and verified it’s authenticity. These could also be ancestors that a lineage society has verified.

Again, Ancestry says Verified should mean, “I have done my best to verify the facts of this ancestor’s life with records which are attached.”

A genealogy educator adds an extra layer that we’ve followed the GPS standard to verify our research. Without adding that to the pop-up definition, then this extra layer reduces the consistent application of the tag.


I don’t want to cause more problems but here’s what makes the most sense to me.

  1. I’m going to use Complete to mean those names I have researched as much as I currently can find (regardless of their Brick Wall status).

  2. I’m going to use Verified, for all peer-reviewed names of those lines accepted by lineage societies.

  3. Both should follow the Genealogical Proof Standard to meet these research statuses.

Aren’t “Unverified” and “Hypothesis” the same MyTreeTag?

According to the Ancestry definitions,

  1. Unverified means, “I heard this information or saw it somewhere but haven’t done anything to try to prove it correct.”

  2. Hypothesis means, “Testing a theory to see if it works within the tree context and/or DNA evidence.”

On a good day, I can see the distinction, but more often than not, the differentiation is too subtle me to remember, and likely for most users.

Alternatives to the Universal Relationship MyTreeTags

Can you see why the tags might be a blessing and a curse? We need to play from the same field and not have terms that are not so similar to one another that we can’t all speak the same “genealogical” language.

I would like to see:

  1. Complete renamed to “Well Sourced” (Exhaustively Searched is not something a beginner would recognize, which is why well-sourced would be better)

  2. Verified renamed to “Peer Reviewed”

  3. Leave Hypothesis

  4. Rename Unverified to “Unsubstantiated”

Universal MyTreeTags – DNA Tags

These tags are the most confusing of the Ancestry MyTreeTags. Ancestry is attempting to provide a tool to reduce the “creative” graphics or codes users add to their trees to identify their ancestors.

The trouble is that you add DNA MyTreeTags, they only make sense to you, not to others. Therefore, you can’t pass this information to others without creating confusion for the overall community. (If you stumble across someone’s tree with the DNA tags, ignore them because you’ll confuse yourself.)

However, folks may still want to use the DNA MyTreeTags, so follow these guidelines:

DNA Match MyTreeTag

According to Ancestry, “This person is on your DNA Match List.”

Add this MyTreeTag to those individuals (likely living or recently deceased) who appear on your DNA match list and in your family tree.

Common DNA Ancestor MyTreeTag

According to Ancestry, “This person is a common ancestor between yourself and at least one of your DNA Matches.”

Use this tag for those ancestors who you share in common with your DNA matches. These are your direct ancestors (so you’re likely to have two tags on each person).

DNA Connection MyTreeTag

Ancestry says, “This person is a relative on the path between a DNA Match and a common ancestor.”

This tag will appear on every ancestor between your DNA matches and the common ancestor you share. If you and your match share a 2nd great-grandparent. You will tag your parent, grandparent, and great grandparent as a DNA connection along with their parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent (assuming the path is so easy).

The Challenge of DNA MyTreeTags

You will quickly see that many of your DNA Common Ancestors will become your DNA Connections as they are on the path to a further removed common ancestor.

For instance, let’s say some matches match Martha Gordon and Samuel Gordon on my tree as their Common Ancestor. I’ll label Martha and Samuel with the Common Ancestor Tag. But, other DNA matches only match Martha’s parents, Charles Gordon and Jane Fickle. Martha now needs the DNA connections tag as well.

For me, these tags are confusing so I prefer to use the Color Coding dots and notes feature on my DNA match page rather than the DNA MyTreeTags.

Custom Ancestry MyTreeTags

You’ll soon find that many of your ancestors have something in common (occupations, military branches, historical experiences) and you’ll want to add custom tags to your tree.

Ancestry advises you to “create tags that apply to multiple people in your tree, or you’ll just end up with another disorganized mess of hundreds of random tags that impede your searches.

For instance, you could create a tag that says Suspected Alias, but how many people will have this situation?

Let me show you a list of useful tags you might want to create and then search your tree for.

  1. Biographical

  2. Disabled

  3. Landowner

  4. Slave Owner

  5. Slave

  6. Free Black

  7. Indentured Servant

  8. Religion (Jewish, Mormon, Catholic, Baptist, Mennonite)

  9. War Service

  10. American Revolution

  11. Boer Wars

  12. Vietnam

  13. Napoleonic Wars

  14. US Army

  15. US Navy

  16. British Royal Air force

  17. DAR Ancestor

  18. Immigrant Ancestors

  19. Irish Potato Famine

  20. German Revolution

  21. Pilgrim

  22. Pioneer

  23. Ellis Island

  24. Record Tags

  25. Death (or Birth, or Marriage) Certificate on File

  26. Burned Courthouse

  27. Died Intestate

  28. Researched Probate (or Orphan Court, or Land) Records

  29. Obituary on File

  30. Visited Gravesite

  31. Research Tags

  32. Research Errors or Conflicts

  33. Birth (Death/Marriage) Location/Date Unknown

For the most part, these tags do have universal meaning and broad yet specific applications.

If I visited a profile for your ancestor and you have tags for Catholic, US Army, died intestate, and research errors, I quickly know about the person and that there are conflicts in the records.

I may also search your tree (or mine) for the Catholics, especially if I discover a Catholic record collection online that I want to explore.

Using Ancestry MyTree Tags Correctly

Ancestry MyTreeTags can be a boon to your research and our collaboration on the platform. We must commit to using universal tags as they are defined. Otherwise, we’re creating new confusion.

Consider these points when selecting which MyTreeTag will best help you organize your family tree and genealogical research. #ancestry #genealogy #genealogybasics

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