App

Find out where you came from with the Ancestry app

Price: Free to download
Subscription: from $11/£11 monthly
Version: 11.10.1
Size: 182.5 MB
Developer: Ancestry.com

Ancestry

Tracking your family tree with Ancestry.com has been a popular pastime for years, even before the iOS app came along. There’s an innate fascination with discovering your personal history. We humans spend years trying to figure ourselves out – but inevitably, it seems, we largely fail, and we have to look backwards to understand who we truly are.

Start building your family tree – it’s surprising how far you can get

But how much can you actually learn from an app? It’s normal to feel a level of scepticism here, because – even if the right records can be accurately found – what can you really learn from birth, marriage and death certificates?

Perhaps that’s just me. Perhaps my family didn’t do much beyond being born, dying, and getting married in between. But it was still a fascinating ride searching through my family tree with the Ancestry app, which for the most part exceeded my wary expectations.

The app will give you hints of what’s in the global archive to help you

You can start your Ancestry journey for free, adding yourself as the starting point of the tree before adding close connections like siblings and parents. Eventually, if you’re lucky enough to still have them in your life, you’ll have to have that awkward text exchange with your mum to find out your grandparents’ birth dates. With each addition, you may find the app raises a ‘potential connection’ to review on the hunt for long-distant relatives. Steadily, your tree will grow.

Well, I didn’t know this.

For the most part, you can fly blind in the Ancestry app without having to sign up or pay a penny. But if you want to take things seriously, you’ll have to spend on a monthly subscription to gain access to further records. The ‘essentials’ pack is currently $25 for US users or £11 if you’re in the UK. No matter where you’re based, you’ll need to opt for a pricier ‘worldwide’ subscription package if it turns out your ancestors came from further afield than your home country.

The benefit of subscribing is accuracy, as you gain access to further records. In my case, that helped me to verify whether my ‘potential relatives’ were actually proud family members or imposters.

As it turns out, my family is almost entirely from Shorditch, the (at the time) incredibly poor and now incredibly trendy area of East London. I don’t know how to take this. If that wasn’t enough, it turns out that my great-great-grandfather was French! On my mother’s side, the trail frustratingly cut short at her parents. Beyond that, it seems they all lived in the Welsh valleys where, apparently, records weren’t kept and your name was simply whistled into the wind upon birth.

Maybe it’s not 100% accurate. Maybe there was more than one Denis McCarthy born in Ireland in 1798. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself after finding his prison record.

The app has a bunch of nice touches – like setting out a relative’s life along a timeline

The truth is, apps like this are only going to tell you so much. The real value comes from the conversations it sparks and the memories it triggers. But for what its worth, this established service has no real parallels on the App Store. If you’re curious about your family history, Ancestry is the way to go.

I never understood the value of tracing your family tree until I started testing this app. While the app is well designed, easy to use, and offers you the opportunity to open up numerous fascinating historical records, I do wonder if the novelty is short-lived. While the app will continue to offer you ‘hints’ as to which records might pertain to potentially your fifth great-grandfather, it does start to feel like you’ve hit a dead-end before long. Though in some ways, this could be a positive for the spending-averse – you may be able to do all the digging you need within a single month’s paid subscription.

It’s fascinating seeing scans of old documents, written out by hand decades ago

But for now, I’d wholeheartedly recommend giving Ancestry a try. It always seems like tracing your family tree is an arduous and expensive task, but this app gives you a valuable glance into your past for free. It’s up to you if you then want to pay a little more to dive in deeper.

Ancestry – trace your family tree with ease
A fascinating glimpse into the past.
For
  • The app's really easy to use
  • Its hints provide a great way to push your forwards
Against
  • It's a pretty expensive subscription
4.0Overall Score