Tuesday, July 19, 2016

ICYMI - Comments on "Are Ancestry Leaf Hints Useful?"

I posted "Shaky Leaves and All - Are They Useful?" on 7 July 2016, and had interesting and helpful comments on it.  The comments were from:

1)  Russ Worthington said:  "I think you know the answer to that question from me. It's one word. ABSOLUTELY. 

"Because this has come up again, the use of Hints, I took a look at a new file that I am working on. There are 130 people in my file, right now.  I started with ONE NAME and location. I knew where this person lived in 1940, so my first search found him where I expected in the 1940 Census. I created my file from that Census Record. I know the family, so I know it is the right person. Most of the rest were from Hints.  I have 54 Hints To Go. But I have had 36 Good Hints and 4 bad ones. I think that is about 90%. But let me talk about the 4 "bad ones". I looked at the hint and I looked at my database, and ALL that I had for those 4 hints was a name, they were females, so I didn't have enough information in my database to get me a good, solid hint.  By following the Hint from that first Census Record, I have 130 people in my database.

"I do take a break from the Hints and do some Find A Grave research. I especially follow those Ancestry.com Find A Grave INDEX hints, to KNOW that there is a Find A Grave Record. I do NOT work the Find A Grave website right from the Index, because my process for working the Find A Grave website is different is different than from Ancestry.com or other websites. I did a blog post, several of them, http://ftmuser.blogspot.com/search/label/Find-A-Grave including the most recent blog post.

"The Hints I am following and have in cue are ALL in FTM2014 and I have EXCLUDED, in my settings, all Ancestry Member Tree's in my hints.

"Michael Thomas Neill talked about how Ancestry does their searching when providing hints. I really don't care, as long as the hints that I get are good ones, and mine are. I also know that those hint go beyond what I might have to manually enter into an Ancestry.com Search screen. I just love it, when I enter a new person and a Shaky Leaf Hint shows up for that person, based on the relationships, dates, and places that are in my database.

"I'll let Ancestry.com capture the Low Hanging Fruit, but I don't just accept them, I evaluate what is presented BEFORE I merge the information into my file.  Oh, and it's now all the easy stuff, I have one New Jersey Fill in the list of hints that I have in cue.

"As I mentioned, there are 130 people is this new file (less than a week old), with 51 marriage, 7 generation, with 41 surnames (mostly local, to this day, surnames),  1,114 Facts, 75 Place Names, 29 Sources, 94 Citations, and 41 media files.

"Oh, and some of those Media files are Cemetery Headstones that I took 5 years ago, and a number just this week.  Not to mention that I sent you a couple of photographs of your folk in one of those cemeteries.

"Bottom line, Yes, I absolutely use those Ancestry Shaky Leaf Hints.

"ps - a previous study of 250 Hints, was 95.7% accurate."

My comment:  Thanks, Russ, for the statistics and commentary.  Your strategy is pretty much what I did when I went looking for the persons named in Elizabeth Auble's will.  I created a new tree, and got Hints immediately and started building the tree with the Hints.  Unfortunately, I then had to add persons to my RootsMagic tree one at a time, although I could have downloaded a GEDCOM from Ancestry and merged it with my big tree.

2)  James Alexander Knighton noted:  "I'm British and all of my ancestors are British, so Ancestry does a very good job at providing hints. You have the Birth, Marriage and Death indexes after 1837 and all the censuses from 1841 to 1911, so it's very easy to cross reference and find out the truth. Many of my lines have been researched purely from the shaky leaves. My practice is to find a birth, marriage and death index record and all relevant censuses the individual was alive for. I verify the index records by ordering the certificates, and if it all matches up, then I look into the more obscure databases on Ancestry, as well as other sites such as Find My Past and FamilySearch. Then I move on to searching on Google, and of course I go out into the real world and look for records there.

"I think people who are so against the shaky leaves that they refuse to even look at them are obviously researching ancestors who lived in areas with sparse records or lived a very long time ago. It's the only way I can explain such an aversion to a brilliant resource. I also think it's unfair to point to all the poorly researched user trees as if it makes Ancestry unreliable. There's a reason why they're called 'hints'".

My Comment:  Interesting commentary, James, thank you.  You're right - the records are very reliable, which is why I, and many others, take the Member Tree Hints with a large grain of skepticism.

3)  Leah Smith commented:  "I also use Ancestry's Shaky Leaf Hints. I have found that they are sometimes the quickest way to find vital record information. especially when it is from a newly added collection. I, too, have excluded all Ancestry Member Trees from appearing in Hints. I know if I want to look for a tree, I can do that, but I do not want trees in my Hints. I also ignore a good many hints from data collections which do not contain images. 

"I most often search Ancestry outside of the Shaky Leaves and Family Tree Maker. I have found that not all collections appear in Ancestry Hints; at least not initially. I tend to search for probate records, naturalization records, and some others using the Ancestry's search function outside of Family Tree Maker. 

"Following hints is just one small part of my research strategy."

My comment:  That's a good observation about the Hints being from a limited number of Ancestry databases (only about 10% - the largest databases according to my information).  

4)  Delbert Ritchhart opined:  "I agree with you. As long as you understand and use the hints correctly, they can be extremely helpful. If nothing else, they are a good lead that you can examine to determine if they are valid ancestors. It is certainly better than nothing! It has also been my experience that if I am looking for John Doe and one of the hints is from the Doe Family, the data tends to be fairly reliable. Like you, I also look to see what source information the tree has. I will also, normally choose the Family Tree information from the trees with the highest number of sources and media."

My comment:  I agree - sources are critical, and record images are better than indexes.  But indexes done by a state or county can be very useful.

5)  Darren Price offered:  "When Ancestry first introduced the shaky leaf hints, I tried keeping up with them. At the time, my database included about 5,000 individuals. It was just barely possible to keep up, if I didn't do anything else. At that time, a LOT of the hints were incorrect (at least 1/3, maybe 1/2). I suspect that early uncritical acceptance of shaky leaf hints introduced more errors into Ancestry member trees than any other single factor (even though the hints are partly driven by what people accept and reject, they seem to be much improved today).

"Now I find that, like Randy, the hints are most useful when I've either added someone new to the tree, or when I'm looking at part of the tree I haven't worked on for awhile (where the act of viewing makes the hint engine kick in). The 'find hints by database' trick is also very useful (thanks, Russ!), it made very quick work of mining the recent 'SSA Applications & Claims' database. The hint engine mostly finds things I would have found anyway, but it does it with a lot less effort on my part, and there are the occasional 'aha!' moments that make it absolutely worthwhile.

"I also agree that member tree hints are mostly unhelpful, with one specific exception - sometimes I find a member tree from the spousal side of one of my families that has information about maiden names and/or spousal parents. As it's usually unsourced, it still needs to be verified, but it does help."

My comment:  Thanks, Darren.   I've noticed that I have to wait awhile to use the "find hints by database trick" with a relatively new database.  I don't know if Ancestry goes back to find more Hints for persons they've already found Hints from.  


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Copyright (c) 2016, Randall J. Seaver

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Diane Gould Hall said...

I personally have found the hints to be very useful, over the years. However, caveat.....it is the links to documents that are the most useful. The trees I use as leads. I have found many a gem in those Ancestry hints.

Erin Van Zante said...

I'm not a genaologist, and my trees are a mess. But I want it that way. I like the hints! Only 2000-4000 is out of control. Most hints are right. But I have some families that have multiplied themselves everywhere. It was intentional and track able. I have done my DNA and it only adds fuel to my maniacal adding of the "wrong" relatives simply because of the deliberate spreading of these "duplicate" families. Ask almost anyone in Texas who has the sur name Duke, which branch of Dukes they come from- then watch what happens when the YDNA comes back and you will see every single person in the family has now done their's as well, and then it blossoms into a communication between every single Duke they can find alive doing their's as well. Those hints gave me much of my incorrect information which turned out to be very correct once DNA was introduced! Member trees are all over the board, but sometimes, they are THAT individual's life and it is the information that they know to be true. I've asked people on other sites to please not make corrections to my tree. They still do it, thinking that they know my family more than me. I lived with them. I have our family bible, the photos, the stories. When that little leaf pops up sometimes, I shake just like it in anticipation for a juicy bit of information that I was unable to find or didn't know!