Tag Archives: Ancestry

Looking at Ancestry Under Attack

This was the first tweet announcing an issue with the Ancestry website on June 16, 2014
The first tweet announcing an issue with the Ancestry website on June 16, 2014

This week I sat with anticipation to see what would happen to my favourite genealogy site, Ancestry.ca.

The second tweet on June 16, 2014 from Ancestry about their issues
The second tweet on June 16, 2014 from Ancestry about their issues

For two full days, the Canadian version, along with all other versions of the the Ancestry brand were inaccessible. Eventually it trickled out on Twitter and Facebook that the site was crippled by unknown assailants with a DDos Attack.

If they went down, where would all my research go? Would I ever be able to get back to trying to locate all my ancestors?

Chief technology officer Scott Sorensen wrote: “Around 1:30 p.m. MT on Monday, June 16, 2014, attackers targeted Ancestry with a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS). During the attack, Ancestry websites along with the Find A Grave website were clogged with massive amounts of bogus traffic that took the sites down.”

It’s not incredibly shocking that something like this would happen. Ancestry is one of if not the worlds largest online research platforms for family history research. In many ways, they have an almost monopoly over the content and have multiple websites under their banner including: Archives.com, Fold3.com, ProGenealogists, Newspapers.com, Genealogy.com, MyFamily.com, and Rootsweb.com and FindaGrave.com. To a Hacker, it is entirely possible the temptation proved too hard to resist.

One of the things that I love about Ancestry, is that living people and their personal information are not searchable. This includes me and any of the living relatives on my tree. What if this attack set me or my loved ones up for identify theft?

“Your data was not compromised by this attack,” promised Sorensen. “This attack overloaded our servers with massive amounts of traffic but did not impact or access the data within those servers. No data was impacted in any way.”

I’ll admit, I have been slacking a bit in recent weeks by not doing much research. This is nothing new as I tend to research in burst mode for hours/days at a time and then take a few weeks off. I wasn’t aware the site was down until other geneabloggers started talking about it on twitter and the Ancestry Twitter and Facebook feeds started to trickle out information.

Issues continue with the Ancestry website on June 17, 2014
Issues continue with the Ancestry website on June 17, 2014

I wasn’t as nervous as perhaps I should have been. When hackers got into Target, they took all sorts of information. The team at Ancestry had assured everyone the attack did not compromise any data. Even though they were able to get most of the issue under control in two days, there have been intermittent outages. Even now when logging onto the site it has a disclaimer: You may be experiencing some intermittent service with the Ancestry.ca website. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause and appreciate your patience as we work to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.

I avoided the website until this morning. A little part of my brain was worried the hackers would somehow gain access to my system if I went on. For some reason this morning I decided to give it a shot. All of my research was there, and many more leaves were shaking than the last time I was on the site. The new facts were a pleasant surprise and made my staying away worthwhile.

The first tweet indicating a DDoS attack to the Ancestry website June 18, 2014
The first tweet indicating a DDoS attack to the Ancestry website June 18, 2014

This whole experience helps demonstrate what a wonderful world we live in. This could have been disastrous for Ancestry and it’s users. Instead, it is a blip on the radar. It may have slowed down the post Father’s Day researchers, but it hasn’t stopped them forever. It is such a “First World Problem” having a website go down. I’m glad I could stay calm and sign in when I was ready.

Per the latest update 18 hours ago from Facebook, it looks like most of the issues have been resolved:

Ancestry Facebook Update 24Jun2014
The most recent Facebook update from June 24, 2014

Now it’s time for me to get back to researching my 6x great grandfather and his actions in the War of 1812 because let’s face it, history is never boring.

That Other Family

Every family has it’s skeletons, and my family is no different. The hardest part is knowing how to tread when looking at it from a family history point of view.

Two of my siblings have a different father than I do. It’s never made my love for them any different as they are still my brother and sister. It just makes it really difficult to share my research successes as for a huge part of my family history has nothing really to do with them. Sure they’ve adopted the name of my father but it isn’t his ancestors blood that flows through their veins.

At some point in the past few months I started to realize how unfair it is that I was able to talk and brag about my ancestors and where they came from, but that they had no idea about half of theirs. It made me sad and I decided to begin looking into their biological father’s family.

It started out innocently enough. I put his name and his parents names as far as I could remember. Amazingly, I was able to put together some information and could trace their family back to PEI for several generations. (Thanks Ancestry!) It was very exciting as I was finally able to pass along some history to my brother and sister.

And then the unthinkable happened.

A message.

“You have my mother on your tree. Why?”

Uh oh.

How do you respond? What do you say? I was treading lightly as I hadn’t really revealed much to my siblings. They knew I was looking at family history, but I hadn’t completely told them about looking into their father’s family. How do I even deal with this request from one of their relatives?

Too chicken to ask face to face, I did what any scaredy cat would do in 2014, I sent them a private message over facebook and explained the situation and asked if it was okay to reveal a little bit of information. Amazingly, they both said sure. Both thought it would be really interesting to know they have family out there.

And so started a conversation with their 3rd cousin who remembers meeting my sister back in 1969. “She was an angel,” was how their cousin Maureen described my sister. Having seen pictures of her back then with her snow white hair, blue eyes and sweet cherubic face I am not surprised. Maureen has been able to reveal more about the family on their paternal grandmother’s side and we have shared pictures and stories.

It’s amazing how searching for that other family I’ve been able to fill in some blanks and get a better picture of my family.