Ancestry.com “Hints” – Separating Facts from Junk

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rp76226
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Ancestry.com “Hints” – Separating Facts from Junk

Postby rp76226 » 14 Mar 2015, 03:57

I think it’s great that every once in a while, a family member determined to find more of his/her family takes out a subscription or 14 day free trial to enable them to view the details of the “hints’ that Ancestry.com only shows to paid subscribers. Unfortunately, there are a lot of problems with much of the “hint’ information out there and also the way Ancestry.com ‘processes’ their hints (that I’ve learned the hard way through experiencing them, then trying to fix them). The end result can lead to serious errors such as putting many unrelated people on the Tree or duplication of related people. I’ve created this document as a self-help guide for myself, but I strongly request (really insist) that we all use it when adding names and/or data to the Tree that was gained through Ancestry.com hints. Otherwise, we will end up with a Tree of unrelated non-family, rather than a Tree of related family.

First I will list the types of problems I’ve encountered and then what I do to avoid these errors or if necessary fix errors that weren’t originally caught. These solutions and ‘fixes’ will be printed in bold type).

1. Official records such as census data, Ellis Island and other immigration records, state and other databases were handwritten and often misspelled or ‘estimated’ (e.g. year born). There were language barriers in recording names and dates accurately plus there were ‘phonetic’ spellings of names that were badly off the true spelling, Americanization of foreign names, nicknames, poor handwriting that was not transcribed to print accurately, etc.. Just an one letter mistake in a name, especially a last name can give two different census hints on the same people, sometimes at different times (for example the 1910 vs 1920 census) causing them to appear as ‘new’ people in both census when in reality they are the same people. If you accept both, you’ll get both names set up on the tree as different people when there only should be one person.* Note that some hints like state records, “Millenium File”, or almost any file from the 1700s and before may give new information (e.g. unknown parents) but upon accepting the hint, it does not present nor add to the tree the unknown information. You must manually add that information to the Tree yourself. Also, hints that are “stories”, when you click on review hint, do not show the story and put the word “Different” under the person’s name. Go back to the hint and instead of clicking on Review hint, click to the left by the name of the hint, to see the story. Then if you verify that it belongs on the tree, click on review hint and accept the hint.

*Checking these people out on a second Family Tree “Window” (through MyFamily.com) before accepting the hint should avoid unwanted duplication. If the hint ‘source is already on the Tree, then do not accept the hint again. Ignore it.

If you do accept the person or persons, when done for a family group of related people, go to one of their Overview screens and click on “View relationship to me”. If the result comes up as “Unrelated”, then stop what you are doing to find and fix the error. If you cannot find the error, then delete all those people and anyone else related to them off the Tree.

2. Ancestry.com repeats hints to every person on the same hint (e.g. census data for an entire family’s members) so that you see it repeatedly and possibly accept it repeatedly duplicating records. Sometimes this results in just having say the 1920 census appear multiple times as a ‘source’ in the Timeline for people’s Overview screens. Other times, especially combined with the problems mentioned in point 1, it results in putting the same person or people on the Tree two or more times. Additionally, it can result in setting a person up with parents and no spouse or children and setting them up again with no parents, but with spouse and children as if they were two different people when in reality they are the same person.


Checking these people out on a second Family Tree “Window” (through MyFamily.com) before accepting the hint should avoid unwanted duplication. If the hint ‘source is already on the Tree, then do not accept the hint again. Ignore it.

If you do accept the person or persons, when done for a family group of related people, go to one of their Overview screens and click on “View relationship to me”. If the result comes up as “Unrelated”, then stop what you are doing to find and fix the error. If you cannot find the error, then delete all those people and anyone else related to them off the Tree.



3. One of the most useful and at the same time most dangerous hints for setting up ‘junk’ on our or your Family Tree that Ancestry.com gives you are “Family Tree” hints for a person. These hints will show one or more trees for your person that may or may not be the same person on our Tree. Worse, they may have made some of the mistakes previously mentioned and have junk on their Tree such as duplicate or even triplicate listings of people, children born before their parents were born or when their parents were too young to have children. Also, they may have children born long after one or both of their parents were dead, another impossibility. I also see duplication of the same children born to multiple spouses for the same person (or also under an actual spouse plus an ‘unknown spouse’).

One letter misspellings (e.g. Weber vs Webber; Whitaker vs Whittaker) can also duplicate people on your tree who are really the same person. Also spaces versus no spaces between two word last names (e.g. Van Gardner vs VanGardner) can also result in duplicate set ups of the same person or people. Another sometimes seen problem is different parents for the same child where the child’s birth and death dates match. Look at the date of birth and deaths of the parents. Sometimes one set of parents are too old to be the parents or are dead before the children are born. Also, some people use the wife’s married name instead of her maiden name. Better to be blank or “?” then a married last name for a woman which leads to all kinds of inaccurate, unwanted hints and mistakes.

If you do accept the person or persons, when done for a family group of related people, go to one of their Overview screens and click on “View relationship to me”. If the result comes up as “Unrelated”, then stop what you are doing to find and fix the error. If you cannot find the error, then delete all those people and anyone else related to them off the Tree.

4. Sometimes through various different hints for the same people, you wind up adding, but not linking, brothers and sisters to the Tree, whose parents are unknown. At a later date, the parents become known through new hints, but since their children aren’t linked on the Tree, you wind up adding the parents twice (once to each child) as different sets of people (parents) without knowing it. You might, through new hints, continue the duplication as more ancestors or descendants of the parents are discovered.

Checking these people out on a second Family Tree “Window” (through MyFamily.com) before accepting the hint should avoid unwanted duplication. If the hint ‘source is already on the Tree, then do not accept the hint again. Ignore it.

If you do accept the person or persons, when done for a family group of related people, go to one of their Overview screens and click on “View relationship to me”. If the result comes up as “Unrelated”, then stop what you are doing to find and fix the error. If you cannot find the error, then delete all those people and anyone else related to them off the Tree.


5. Under the spouse and children on the right side of the Overview page for a person is a green bar titled “Recent Member Connect activity”. If it is highlighted in yellow with a the phrase “You have “X” new possible connections….”, click on it to see potential new information on members of our Tree taken from other people’s trees. Some of this is useful and some doesn’t apply. Different Trees may contradict each other.

Corroborate names, relationships, dates, etc. to be absolutely sure that these are the same people on our tree (often it isn’t) before adding names and dates to our tree from this information. If there are a lot of people to add, just add 1 or 2 names, go to another screen on the tree (doesn’t matter which one), then go to the Overview screen again. Look at the top right, there may be a spinning green disk that will give new hints when stopped. If one is a family tree hint, click on it. The next screen presents all unreviewed hints with the tree hint appearing first. Click on that. It is much easier to add people and dates from the screen presented (as you choose which tree if more than one you want to compare to). Just remember all the issues mentioned in point 3 above.

Number one Rule – If you are not sure if a person should be added, then do not add them.

If you do accept the person or persons, when done for a family group of related people, go to one of their Overview screens and click on “View relationship to me”. If the result comes up as “Unrelated”, then stop what you are doing to find and fix the error. If you cannot find the error, then delete all those people and anyone else related to them off the Tree.


6. Under the person’s profile picture (or gender silhouette if no picture) on their Overview screen is a small magnifying glass with the words “search records”. Click on it. Most will be junk but sometimes there are good records from census and other data.

Just corroborate to related names and dates to be sure that it’s good information for our Tree. Then if good, use the “SAVE” orange bar to add to the Tree.

If you do accept the person or persons, when done for a family group of related people, go to one of their Overview screens and click on “View relationship to me”. If the result comes up as “Unrelated”, then stop what you are doing to find and fix the error. If you cannot find the error, then delete all those people and anyone else related to them off the Tree.


7. Finding and correcting a mistake from a previously accepted hint is absolutely necessary and sometimes very involved. You may have not noticed that a previously accepted hint had a problem (for example a child born before its parents). Time has passed and through ‘new’ hints for that child, you may now have added spouses, children, grandchildren, and people from families who married these relatives. All of these people are related to that original child. However, that child, due to the impossibility of being born before their parents, no longer belongs on the Tree.

Unless you can find a legitimate place for that child (e.g. belongs to a different generation parent with the same name that is already on the Tree), you need to delete the child from the Tree and every related person to that child also needs to be deleted from the Tree. That is a tricky process and it’s easy to delete a person and not remember who the other people who also need to be deleted are. Before deleting, print each pertinent Overview screen showing parents, spouses, children, and siblings (need to click on siblings to see them) and work from there, checking off each person you delete until everyone is checked off on every sheet you printed.

Note, if you did find that you can legitimately relate that person to the Tree, go to their Overview screen and click on Edit this person. Then click on Relationships. Then click on Remove for the relationship(s) that are wrong. Next, click on “Add” by the relationship you need to add. Very important, don’t type in the person’s name. Instead, choose the option ‘Select a person from this Tree’ and add in that manner. Do for as many people (e.g. both parents) as required.

8. Avoiding photo and story duplication within the Tree Media Gallery.

Some photos and stories belong to multiple people and should be shown on each of their Media Galleries in their Overview Screen. You can individually put the same story or photo to each individual separately, but this is not a good idea. If you do that, when people go to the “Tree” Media Gallery, the same photo or story will appear multiple times.

To avoid that, use the ‘Attach’ feature to reference multiple people to the same photo or story. After the photo or story has been uploaded for an individual, you can at that time, click on the box by the attach feature to reference others to that ‘media’ item. Start typing in the name and suggestions will come up of people. Click on the one that fits. Click on ‘Attach’. Repeat as often as required for additional people. Click on Done when finished. Note – if you later discover the need to attach people to an already uploaded photo or story, click on the photo or story. Follow the previous directions.

In conclusion, there are a lot of benefits of carefully using selected hints to accurately add people and data to the Tree. Not only does the tree grow in size and relevance, the hints add ‘sources’ to both the Overview (Profile) screen in the Timelines for these people and also on the Overview screen on the right side towards the bottom of the screen, there will be a green bar titled “Source Information” (appears under spouse and children, then under Recent member Connect Activity). If an image appears by any of the sources listed, that means that you can view the image such as a census for that source when you click on the source from here (or from the Timeline).

Final Note – If you are adding people to the tree through your own family knowledge (and not by using Ancestry.com hints), you must add that person as a relative (child, or parent, or spouse) of a person already on the Tree! Otherwise, the family link will be broken and the Tree will regard that person as an “unrelated” person. Others who look up that person will not be able to see the link to the legitimate family members on the tree. The “View Relationship” feature will show that person and all linked to that person as “unrelated”.

When manually adding a person or persons, when done for a family group of related people, go to one of their Overview screens and click on “View relationship to me”. If the result comes up as “Unrelated”, then stop what you are doing to find and fix the error. If you cannot find the error, then delete all those people and anyone else related to them off the Tree.

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