As part of the quest to track down long-dead relatives… sorry, connect with my past… I have subscribed to a couple of web sites. Genes Reunited was one of them. Now, before I have a pop at Genes Reunited, as I’m undoubtedly going to (and let’s face it, you’re now looking forward to it), let me first say that it’s actually a very good site to join if you’re into the family history research fad. I’ve discovered some good info, and I’ve made contact with a relative who has been tremendously helpful. In short, if you’re researching your family history, you should join.

However…

The one feature I have an issue with is ‘Hot Matches’. Let me explain. Genes Reunited allows you to upload your tree (it supports the GEDCOM standard, blah blah, technical stuff). To give you an idea of the quantity, in the last month over four million names were added to the combined trees of Genes Reunited members. Every two weeks the Hot Matches feature will look at your tree and then look at a cross section of the other tress and match up details – the idea being is that if I have a Mary Brown in my tree, born in 1855, Hot Matches will tell you about Mary Browns in other trees which may belong to distant relatives. And in doing so you make contact, swap details on ancestors, have tearful reunions with people who have the same great x7 grandfather, and so on.

Sometimes this works rather well. The first Hot Match in my list for this fortnight contains details for ‘Emma’ whose tree contains one of the Ottaway family, born in Norfolk in 1816. This chap I know is the wife’s great x3 grandfather, and therefore Emma may be a distant relative of the wife. So, this is rather good, eh? Hmmm…

Back to Mary Brown. You’ve probably guessed by now that I’ve used that name as an example because a) she was an ancestor of  mine and b) it’s a more frequently-occurring name than anyone in the Ottaway family… or just about any other family. If you stood in any street of any town in the mid-1800s and threw a handful of gruel over your shoulder, you’d probably hit a Mary Brown. So you can probably believe me when I tell you that the Hot Matches search for Mary Brown, born in 1855, brings up quite a few results. But how hot are they?

This evening I started to plough through eleven pages of Hot Matches, and got through two pages worth before I got fed up and started writing this. Among the ‘Hot Matches’ were Mary Browns born in Hull, Bury, Glasgow, Plymouth, Staffordshitre, the Shetland Islands, Georgia (yes, the US state) and Tasmania. If you were playing hide-and-seek none of those could be considered hot… or even luke-warm. Not when you’re looking for a Mary Brown born in Chiswick.

Ironically, Hot Matches would ignore Mary Browns born in Chiswick in 1854 or 1856 – which is a bit daft considering that you have to give a bit of leaway with dates, especially if your research is based on censuses where the ages are often rounded up or down.

Let me finish by saying that I understand why Hot Matches can’t work with exact matches for locations. The GEDCOM record doesn’t break a place of birth down into towns, counties and countries… it’s one single location. If exact matches only were paired up, Mr Ottaway’s record wouldn’t have been matched due to a spelling discrepancy and the fact that Emma used the town and county, whereas I just used the town. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have nine more pages of Hot Matches to get through.