Be Cautious with Ancestry Hints

If you have used Ancestry to build a family tree, you have likely since the ancestor hint feature, those iconic green leaves.  Hints are pieces of information in the Ancestry database that their formula deems very likely relates to the person in your tree.  They can be really helpful, because often they are right.  They can save search time.  But be careful, not all hints are good.

Recently I was working on my husband’s Norwegian line.  A number of people in the tree have common given names like Ole and Peder and common surnames like Olsen and Johnsen.  I came across some of the worst hints I have ever seen.  There were hints that gave the wrong country, the wrong century, and even both simultaneously!  I have seen this happen especially with common names, but also less common names as well.

The problem is that sometimes the hint-generating algorithms fall into the “the name’s the same” trap.  If two records mention the same name, we need a reason to consider that both records refer to the same person.  Perhaps they have the same location, age, occupation, spouse’s name, whatever.  But it takes some thought.  Sometimes these algorithms make mistakes.  It is our job to think about each hint a little skeptically before we accept it.

Unfortunately, I have seen trees of Ancestry members who appear to be accepting every hint.  I can tell, because those hints that show outlandish places or times that I chuckled at when they appeared in my tree, appear as sources in their tree.  Often other trees are listed as sources, which I never do, but could indicate someone was just accepting every hint in the hint list.  Unfortunately these trees end up with a lot of sources, which generally indicates a better tree, but not in this case.

And don’t forget that not all Ancestry collections with generate hints.  Hints are just from a subset of popular records.  Search the records yourself as well.

Don’t fall for a bad hint.  Reason through why that record describes your person.  Watch out for trees that have a lot of sources, but accepted bad hints.  Have a healthy dose of skepticism.  But do consider the hints, because they can be very helpful if used properly.

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