Genealogy for Geeks, Part 6: Ancestry.com Hints

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Screenshot of Ancestry.com's leaf hints.

Anyone with an interest in where they came from can do research into their family history and background. But without a lot of experience, those new to genealogy might not be sure what materials exist, or how or where to find them.

Cheaper than a genealogy class at the local community college, Ancestry.com’s membership has built into its service something called Ancestry Hints. Once you input at least a portion of your family tree, the website will generate hints for you, marked with a leaf. Any ancestors with unreviewed hints are marked with this leaf. These hints lead you to census records, military records, family trees of other Ancestry members, and many other kinds of documents. Even if you don’t have a paying membership, you can still see what kinds of hints are available. Viewing the documents themselves is restricted to members.

An example of an ancestor whose hints I still need to review.

Of course, depending on how much information you have in your tree, the leaves may have some information that doesn’t apply to your ancestor. So be sure to evaluate each hint individually, making sure the document is referring to your ancestor and not just someone with the same or similar name. Be sure to check spouse, place of birth, and other details to make sure they match up. If the hint doesn’t apply to the ancestor, you can ignore the hint. If it is about your ancestor, you can accept the hint, and then it will be attached to that person.

Once you determine that a hint applies to your ancestor, you can include the whole collection of new information with that person, or you can choose to include only parts of it. Also, each time you view your family tree, Ancestry.com’s hint system searches to see if there are any new hints. Since new documents are being included on the website all the time, and people are always working on their own member trees, there is always the possibility of new information being unearthed.

Personally, I’ve found the hint system aspect of membership to be the most useful. No matter how seemingly original the name of your ancestor is, many people with the same or similar names come up during a regular search. It’s hard to narrow it down sometimes. But Ancestry.com‘s intelligent system has found a way to discover more documents for most of your ancestors. In my experience, only occasionally have their hints been incorrect.

If you’re interested in researching your family tree more deeply, but are getting stuck or running into dead ends, check out Ancestry.com’s leafy hints. They’re a great time saver, and will likely lead you to new ancestors you haven’t yet found.

Earlier posts in this series included Part 1: Who Do I Think I Am?, Part 2: Census Records, Part 3: Published Histories, Part 4: Military Records, and Part 5: Finding the Dead.

Note: Ancestry.com provided me access to their records for the purposes of these reviews. Consider starting your family tree there today. It’s free!

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