I’ve stumbled across an interesting issue with Ancestry.com’s ‘View relationship to me’ feature. It has to do with family lines where multiple generations of people married cousins. I’m wondering if anyone else is experiencing this.
This issue arises with my Harling-Harlan-Harland ancestors. Due to religious reasons (which I’ll get into in my next post), this family has a history of generation after generation of family members marrying 2nd and 3rd cousins stretching back to the early 1600s.
This family tree is so labyrinthine, so inter-connected within its branches, that even I struggle to comprehend the degree to which some of these cousin couples (as I call them) are related to me…forget how they’re related to each other. In many cases, some of these cousin-couples are related three, four and five times over. In other words, their parents, both sets of grand-parents and most of their great-grandparents were also cousins from the different branches of this enormous family.
So if I’m struggling, I can’t really blame Ancestry for struggling.
Here’s a classic example of the problem I’m having with this Ancestry.com feature.
Ancestry’s answer to how Lewis and I are related is quite the mouthful. Basically, boiled down, it’s Ancestry’s way of saying we’re related through marriage. Which is true. However, Lewis is most definitely my cousin by blood. His great-grandfather, Michael Harlan, Sr., and my 9x great grandfather, George Harlan, were brothers, as you can see below.
So, Lewis Harlan really is my cousin.
Now the logical question to ask is where this family relationship glitch goes wrong. Turns out that it goes wrong straight away. Ancestry.com should show Michael Harlan, Sr to be my grand uncle. That is what he is, after all. Nope, not a bit of it according to Ancestry.com. This is how the service describes my relationship to him:
What’s going on, then? Maybe it has something to do with the intertwining of all of James Harlan’s (my 10x great grandfather) lines. Trying to work backwards as I add subsequent generations of their descendants, it’s as though Ancestry.com is saying: “Sorry, mate, too complicated for me. Good luck sorting this out!”
My suggestion to Ancestry, for whatever it’s worth, is that it should tweak the algorithm behind this relationship feature so that the most direct familial relationship over-rides all others. In other words, forget all of the other ways I’m connected to Michael Harlan, Sr and just go with ‘grand uncle’. In other words, ignore that he is also my cousin.
I make this suggestion for a reason. It has a knock-on effect on AncestryDNA results. I have matches with a number of James Harlan’s descendants on AncestryDNA. However, because they are not showing as actual cousins on Ancestry.com, AncestryDNA doesn’t provide any match hints. Nor does it shows how we’re actually related. So there’s no chance of connecting through AncestryDNA’s ‘Circle’ feature. This is probably due to Ancestry interpreting that we’re only connected through marriage and not through blood. Which kind of defeats the purpose of spending months of intensive research on this family – and adding generations of descendants to my family tree.