When I go to Ancestry.com and look at my tree, it tells me I have 24,766 record hints. Photos, stories, and member trees hints add another 4,000+. With 6,040 people in the tree, it averages to 4 record hints per person. Of course, many people do not have hints (only 3,530, or 58%), so the average becomes 7 record hints per person, 8 hints, if you count trees, photos, etc. Actual numbers are much higher for some, obviously. And not all hints are created equal; I know some don’t belong to my people.
It got me thinking, though, about who was my most popular person, with regard to hints. Was there an easy way to find that person? It wasn’t as easy as I thought.
No report exists in Family Tree Maker allowing me to list people by the number of hints they have. If I go to the corresponding online tree at Ancestry.com, I can look at all my hints. I can even sort them by surname, though paging through 1,239 pages of hints and counting them up didn’t seem like a good plan. I could pull up a name list, but that had only name, birth and death dates; not the number of matches. So I wandered around my Ancestry tree, clicking on leaves to see how many hints they had.
It was slow, tedious, and not efficient. I decided to focus more on direct ancestors, sometimes their siblings. I found plenty who had hints in the upper teens, with a couple at 20 or 21. The winner, with 23 hints, was my great-grandmother, Anna Bruder Haws. You’ve met Anna before, with her husband Frank Haas/Haws, in The Old Homestead. They were also the parents of the children in Close to Home and So Far Away.
Looking at her list of 23 hints:
- 10 were member trees (one is my cousin’s). With my subscription currently lapsed, and libraries closed, I cannot check those out. Ancestry only counts them all as one, however.
- 6 were photographs. Four of those were from my cousin’s tree, that I had sent to her. Two (technically one, because the second one was a closeup of the first!) are from an unknown person, probably a Bruder cousin. Why do I think that? Sitting next to Anna & Frank is a person identified as Ben Bruder.
- 3 were newspaper clippings added by a different unknown cousin, referring to Anna’s funeral after her 22 October 1952 death. One mentioned Aunt May returning home to New York, afterwards.
- census records:
- 1870 (Anna Rinder)—had this
- 1880 (Anna Bruder)—had this
- 1900 (Annie Haws)—had this
- 1910 (Anna Harr)—had this, misspelling and all
- 1930 (Anna Haws)—had this
- 1940 (Anna Haws)—Didn’t have this—sheer laziness on my part . . . I don’t even need a subscription for 1940!
- Wisconsin state census—possibly 1905 (no subscription, remember?). I’d found my grandfather, Edward, hired out in Two Rivers in this census, but hadn’t found Anna & Frank. The surname is indexed as HAERS, so that explains why I may not have found it.
- Find A Grave—I have personal photos of her headstone, but haven’t harvested her Find A Grave memorial, yet
- city directory—don’t have this, not sure of the year or location.
- Chicago & North Western Railroad Employment records—don’t have this. Her oldest son, John, worked as a section foreman, so likely this is from his employment
- Wisconsin, Births & Christenings—don’t have. It’s probably for one of her children, but I don’t know which one.
- Social Security Applications & Claims—don’t have. From a child’s application, but don’t know which one.
- New York, Passenger & Crew Lists. This is the only hint I think is bogus.
WHEW! That was quite a list! It was somewhat reassuring that only one hint (last one) seemed to be wrong. Anna was born in Wisconsin. While both her parents emigrated from Germany, they arrived as children, with their parents. Anna had no grandparents to travel back to visit. Might there have been other relatives still in Germany? Sure. But they wouldn’t have been anyone she knew personally, or had a close relationship with, so I seriously doubt this is her. There are a lot of Bruders and women/girls named Anna.
Will I ignore that hint? No. I will take a look at it, next time I have the chance. I’ve had long shots pay off, before. What about the other hints?
It was reassuring to know that I’d found most of her census records, but this exercise pointed out 1920 is definitely missing. I’m not sure why, but if Ancestry isn’t finding Anna & Frank, my guess is that the surname was seriously mangled. It begs for a page-by-page search for them.
The state census should place them on the farm, with some of the kids (like my grandfather, Edward) already moved out. It will make gaps in the timeline smaller—always a good thing. The city directory may not provide any new information, though it could help pinpoint more precisely where they were, when. Or not, depending on the year.
The railroad employment and Social Security records will provide corroboration that yes, she really is the mother of whichever child the record was for. It’s helpful to have a different type of record indicating a parent-child relationship. The birth or christening record accomplishes the same thing.
It was kind of fun seeing who is the most “popular” in my file. And it was actually useful to check out the record hints. It helped me locate a few new pieces of data—or will, once I have access to Ancestry. I wish there was an easier way to do it. It would be nice to create a list of names with the number of hints for them. I could print it, or save it to a spreadsheet, allowing me to keep track of who I have checked out. Currently, it’s too difficult, so I’m likely to miss someone, or check them out twice.
I also wish there was as better way to handle the hints, both with Ancestry and in Family Tree Maker. The choices available in Family Tree Maker are:
- Merge—the software decides what facts should be generated from the record. I have a little control over how they are handled, but it doesn’t seem intuitive to me. The source citations created aren’t necessarily set up the way I would. I can change them, but it seems like it takes more time. I tried the merge with a couple record matches, but wasn’t really thrilled with the results. I prefer creating the facts I want, and the sources I want.
- Ignore—the hint disappears from the list and is added to the “ignored hints” list. I can go back and recheck that list of ignored hints.
From my online Ancestry tree (which is synced with Family Tree Maker), my hint choices are:
- Ignore—Like in the software, the hint moves to the ignored hint list, and can be reviewed again, at a later time.
- Review—Reviewing the hint asks me if the person in the record matches the person in my tree. I can answer:
- Yes—The fact(s) associated with that record will be added to my Ancestry tree.
- No—The record is treated the same as “ignore”
- Maybe—the record is added to an “undecided” list, for additional review, later.
I don’t like any of those choices. Like accepting a hint in Family Tree Maker, if I click “yes,” my Ancestry tree will have a number of new facts created, based on the information in the record. They may not be the facts I want. It also creates a situation where I have to update my Family Tree Maker file with changes from Ancestry. While syncing works in both directions, my personal method is to make changes only on the tree on my laptop, and sync to the online tree. One direction changes, only.
Last fall I was traveling, and needed to check my file from my phone. Being able to view my Ancestry tree was a huge convenience! Unfortunately, phone screens are small, and I thought I accidentally made a change to that tree—only I didn’t know exactly what got changed (small screen, remember?). When I got home, I deleted the online tree and uploaded a fresh copy from my laptop, just to be sure I didn’t corrupt the data on my laptop. I do not like syncing down from online!
What I would like is for Ancestry to offer another option for both the online trees and the Family Tree Maker trees: “accept the hint (or “yes, it’s the same person”), but I’ll enter my own facts, thank you very much!” Why? Ancestry’s algorithm looks at the data in my tree, and the data in the record, to calculate if they probably are the same person. I’m pretty sure if I answer “yes,” Ancestry will use that informaton to locate additional records for that person. If I answer “no,” it uses that information to eliminate other records as being a match. The algorithm gets smarter, based on my answers.
SO, I’d love to tell them all those census records are correct! It might help Ancestry figure out where Anna is in 1920. Hints also come only from the more common databases. If I process through existing hints, it may prompt the algorithm to look into additional databases that it isn’t checking now, because I have so many hints.
For now, though, I’d settle for a simple list of people with hints, so I would know who to look at, first!