Just like a detective, genealogists love clues. Clues and hints can help lead you in the right direction to make more discoveries. Ancestry.com tries to give you as many clues as it can, in the form of those shaky leaves you see in your tree that we lovingly call ‘hints’. But how do you maximize the information you get from those clues? In this episode of “The Barefoot Genealogist with Crista Cowan”, Crista will talk about going beyond the shaky leaf and making the most out of your hints.
If you’re new to genealogy or Ancestry.com, hints are those little leaves you see when you are looking at your family tree that pops up for your ancestors. When you first click to go to your tree, they’ll often give you a little wave, but there’s much more to them than just making your tree look like more of a tree.
Accessing Your Hints
You can see hints in your tree, both in the Pedigree and Family View. You can also see your hints for an individual ancestor on their profile page in a call-out box on the top of the page – here it will break them down by hint type. And lastly, you can navigate to the top of the page and click on the leaf icon which will give you a drop down to see all of your hints.
The hints on Ancestry.com are just that, hints. They are not facts. Often time people will see their hints and assume that they are valid and go about attaching them to their tree, when in fact they may be attaching the wrong record with the wrong information. It is absolutely necessary for you to review your hints and verify that they are accurate.
Although hints can give you a lot of clues about your ancestors, they are not exhaustive. Hints do not look at all of the Ancestry.com databases, in fact they only look at about the top 10% most widely used databases which are usually censuses, city directories, WWI draft cards, etc. This is because hints are meant to provide you with a path to more research, a way of getting you started.
What if you have no hints? That doesn’t mean your research should be abandoned, it just means that we can’t tell with a high degree of certainty if any particular record belongs to your ancestor. This means you might want to look at the information you have provided in your tree and either add more, or make sure that it is as accurate as possible.
Aside from looking at the top databases to provide you hints, we also look at public trees. We look at other members’ trees with common ancestors and we give you hints based on that information – this is part of the reason why it is imperative that you make sure you review your hints for accuracy. If you attach something to your public tree without reviewing it and have the wrong information, then others will be getting hints based on that inaccurate data.
Reviewing your hints
Always look at the record before you attach it – look at the original record if it is available. This will assure that you have seen the information written down and you can say with confidence that that’s the record that pertains to your ancestor.
Make sure it is attached to everyone – Some of our records will automatically attach to everyone once attached to a single ancestor, like census records. Since they include information regarding relationships to the head of the household, when you attach a record to one ancestor it will attach it to all who are included. However, before the 1880 census, relationships weren’t denoted, so make sure you attach the record to all pertinent ancestors individually.
Flag your hints after reviewing – If you want to keep your research organized, flag your hints as accepted, leave them pending or ignore them. Don’t worry, even if you ignore a hint, you can still see it, in case down the road you have more information and realize a hint you may have ignored is now potentially valuable.
Review Suggested Records – When you are reviewing your hints, suggested records will be shown on your right hand side. These records are based on what other members’ activities surrounding the ancestor you are currently working on. This could lead to more records you have yet to find. You can also access “Suggested Records” in the interactive image viewer on the right side, by clicking on the green bar.
If you find a suggested record but aren’t sure if it’s the right one, you can save it in your ‘shoebox’ for later review – on the left side of the record page is a box called ‘Page Tools’. Click the ‘save record to my shoebox’ and it will be there when you are ready to focus on it.
Now You Search!
After reviewing your hints, and attaching what you find to be good information, it’s time to broaden your search using the information you have gathered from your hints. The easiest way to do this is by asking yourself a series of questions.
What other records might I find for this person? Ask yourself what other records are out there that you didn’t see in your hints. This is a very broad question that we’ll break down into several, more specific questions:
- Are you missing census records? Make sure you have found your ancestor in each census that they could possibly be in – if you haven’t, then tackle that first.
- Are there military records? This mostly applies to male ancestors. Even if they didn’t serve, they still may have registered for a military draft.
- Does a death record exist? A certificate, tombstone or obituary record might be out there.
- Does a marriage record exist? These records are usually held by counties or local churches, and not by the state, as many states didn’t begin record keeping until recently. Look in the Card Catalog to see what kinds of records are available in the location you are looking for.
- Does a birth record exist? Often birth records are hard to find as many states have 100+ year privacy laws, which prohibit these records from being available, online. However, if you are a descendant, you can call the local county’s office and request a copy of a birth record if it is available.
Other Questions to Ask
If you have asked and answered all of the above questions, there are still a few more that will help find out more about your ancestor:
- Have you recorded their children and siblings? Finding the children and siblings of your ancestor can sometimes be the key to unlocking that ancestor’s past. For example, you may be looking for records to a female ancestor and be totally stumped because you can’t find her maiden name. Then, in researching her son, you find that her maiden name is written in his obituary. Voila!
- Have you searched local newspapers for any mention of life events? Back in the day, people announced just about anything in the papers, including but not limited to wedding anniversaries, engagements, vacations, dinner parties, etc. And if you can’t find the newspaper online, call the local library – they might be able to help.
- Does anyone in the family remember this person? Obviously this will only cover more recent relatives, but talk to your family and see if anyone remembers them – not just so you can get more facts, but also so you can record those amazing family stories.
- Have you searched family and local histories? If your ancestor is much too old for anyone to remember, local histories might help. They were put together by the communities and included biographies about prominent people, pioneers, schools, really anything about that community.
We hope that this helps you get started looking at your hints and going beyond all those shaky leaves!