5 Rules for Accepting Online Hints

These rules are self-imposed, but I strongly encourage following them.

Isn’t it great when you find an online hint when using sites such as Ancestry, FindMyPast, MyHeritage, or even FamilySearch?Exciting as they may be, though, I never take those hints as gospel without doing my own research one person at a time. Rather, I take them to be exactly what they are intended to be – just hints. So here are some rule-of-thumb suggestions:

  • Take your time. Having a lot of hints can make you feel overwhelmed, and pressured into making quick decisions that may involve multiple people. Instead, take one person at a time. That way, you have that person fresh in your mind and can easily check the context of the documents.
  • Look at the document image whenever possible. Apart from anything else, indexes and transcriptions can have errors. Also, the hinting system for any site can only look at the transcribed information. That being so, make sure the document really does match your relative.
  • Look for matches on more than one data point. If the birth place, birth year, and occupation all match there is a great chance that you have a match, and can extract new data from it. For example, a census record may give hints about children you did not previously know about.
  • Be especially careful if you know very little about the cousin who has the hint. It is very common for there to be multiple people with the same name in a database, especially if the name is a common one like John Smith or Jose Garcia.
  • Don’t extract data from an online tree without checking its validity. Once you have bad information in your tree it is very difficult to be sure all errors have been removed from your database. Also, it is not unusual for the same wrong information to show up multiple times in different online trees because the owners just copied and pasted the wrong information.

Next week: Five more self-imposed rules for accepting online trees.

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