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Is the We’re Related App Accurate?

If you have downloaded the We’re Related app from Ancestry to your phone, you’ve probably gotten some notifications about how you are possibly related to some famous individuals.  Is the We’re Related App accurate?  How do they come up with these suggestions?

In this post, you will learn:

  • How to tell if the famous person might really be related to you
  • How to increase the odds that you get more notifications about relatives
  • How the We’re Related app can help you with your family tree research

How to tell if the We’re Related App is accurate

It’s so exciting to get a notification saying that you are related to Eminem, George Bush, or Marilyn Monroe – right?  Before you post it on Facebook, or decide that it’s true, take a good look at how the app says that you and your famous relative are connected.  I’ll show you what I mean:

The We’re Related app gave me a notification that Thomas Jefferson is my 5th cousin 8 times removed.

The We're Related app says I'm related to Thomas Jefferson, is this accurate?

If you click on the photo of the famous relative, it takes you to a new screen where you will see the common ancestor that both you and the famous relative supposedly share:

This is how I am supposedly related to Thomas Jefferson

If you click on the little down arrow above either one of your names, you will see the direct line from either you or your famous relative to the common ancestor. 

I recommend clicking on the little arrow above your name in order to see how the We’re Related app is calculating your direct line.

We are connected through my ancestor, Daniel Thurston

I can now see how the We’re Related app is connecting me to Thomas Jefferson.  Supposedly, our common ancestor is Alice Foxe, born in 1571.  The first thing that I will do is check my tree.  On my own family tree on Ancestry, I only go as far as Daniel Thurston Sr. (b. 1631) on that line. 

The We’re Related app is powered by Ancestry, and so I know that they are using their databases, most likely in the form of other member family trees, in other to determine who Daniel Thurston’s father, and grandmother were. 

I don’t have those people on my family tree, but they could be right.

In order to know whether the We’re Related app is right, I will need to do some research about my Daniel Thurston.  I feel pretty good about the research that I did in order to put him in my tree, and I also have DNA connections to other descendants of Daniel and his wife. 

I’ll just spend some time finding out who his father was, and just work his line back a few more generations – just to see.  A connection with Thomas Jefferson that goes all the way back to the 1500s is definitely nothing to brag about, but it’s interesting – and it’s good family trivia for the holiday season, at least!

For those who are interested (and maybe also descend from a Thurston line):  There is some debate about who Daniel Thurston Sr’s parents are.  There were two people with the same name who came over from England around the same time, and while they were related, there is conflicting information on their ancestry. 

Still, it’s interesting and I am investigating to see if I can find definitive proof that my Daniel Thurston is descended from Alice Foxe.

The We’re Related app can be very wrong sometimes

As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, you have to use your own common sense and research abilities to figure out if the app is reporting a correct relationship to you. 

There is one particular example that stands out to me:  my supposed relationship to Helen Keller.  The app notified me that we are 6th cousins, 4 times removed.

Wrong, wrong wrong!  Supposedly, this is through the mother of my great-great-great grandmother, Julia Suborough.  The app says that her mother was Maria Elizabeth Lusk, but I happen to know for a fact that this woman was her step-mother. 

I am sure that that this is correct because my grandmother, the granddaughter of Julia Sudborough, has done DNA testing, and she shows up as having a “half” DNA relationship to her cousins who are also descended from that family.  My grandmother also remembers her parent talking about half-aunts and half-uncles.

Why does the app show me this incorrect information? There are so many people on Ancestry who get too excited about quickly building their trees – they don’t bother to check documents (like census records, for example).  Instead, they just mindlessly add someone else’s family tree as a source. 

The result? 

There are several family trees on Ancestry that have Ms. Lusk as the mother of Julia, when in fact, she is not.  But since so many trees have this connection in it, Ancestry assumes it is correct.

So sadly, I am not related to Helen Keller.

How to increase the odds that you get more notifications about relatives

The We’re Related app uses your family tree and Ancestry’s powerful database of documents and public member trees in order to to calculate potential connections between you and your famous relatives.  In order to get the best chance of finding connections, you should build your family tree as far back as you can. 

Ancestry makes “educated guesses” in many cases, but the app has to have something to work with.

You will also have a better chance of finding potential relatives among your group of Facebook friends, too, if your tree is well-established.

How the We’re Related app can help you with your family tree research

My advice is to use the We’re Related suggestions as starting points in your research.  Try to verify each connection.  You never know where it will take you!  You might find that you are not related to the suggested famous person, and instead related to someone much cooler.

I really recommend doing an Ancestry DNA test in conjunction with more traditional family tree research in order to verify connections.


Whether or not the app is 100% accurate all the time, I will say it is very fun and entertaining!  Have you tried the app?  If so, who are you related to?  Did you find the connections to be accurate?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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