Is it worthwhile reviewing Record Hints Ancestry sends by email?

In preparing my post Searching beyond the Hints, I set out the other websites I used to verify that one of the record hints from Ancestry was for the person that the hint was for.  Since the records I used to do this were all found on other free websites, and even the record hint was originally from another free website (Find a Grave), it raised the question, is it worthwhile using Ancestry Record Hints?

I have never really got into the habit of merging the ancestry records into my Ancestry Public Member tree – I prefer to download the records, and set up my own citations directly into my desktop family tree program, and then upload a new GEDCOM to Ancestry.

This means that many of the Ancestry record hints are records that I have already looked at, and already have citations for. Even if I were to review the hints, and merge the records into my Ancestry Public Member Tree, this means that my Ancestry tree wouldn’t be in sync with my desktop tree.

Since I have my family tree on a number of different websites (ancestry, FamilySearch, My Heritage and this website), I use a desktop program (Legacy Family Tree) as my working tree. It would therefore be a waste of time merging the records into my Ancestry tree, as they would be removed when I upload a new GEDCOM from my desktop program.

As well as having my tree on a number of sites, and therefore needing to use a desktop program, there is another reason why I prefer not to merge records with my Ancestry tree. This is because Ancestry is a subscription site.  At the moment, I only have a pay-per-view subscription, so I can only view a limited number of records (10) before I have to renew the subscription.  This is one of the main reasons why it makes more sense to download the records when I have a full subscription.  I can then work on transcribing the records, and adding the details to my family tree, at a later time.

Also, while I don’t have a subscription, this means that I can’t get in to all the records to merge them into my tree anyway.

So, I have established that I don’t use Record Hints to update my Ancestry tree.  But can these hints still be useful?

I decided to review my latest Record Hints, to see if they were of any help to me. I’ve already covered the first hint, so these are the other hints.

Amy Marion McCallum (1882-1969)
3 new hints
U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current
Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922
Australia, Death Index, 1787-1985

Since Amy was born and died in Australia, I’m pretty sure the US Find a Grave index record isn’t for Amy.  I decided to check the entry anyway, and found it was for an Amy Green, born in 1881 and 1970.  Her husband was Henry Green, and her mother was Mary Ann Armitage.  Although the birth and death years were close, the spouse and mother’s names don’t match my Amy.
That leaves me with the other two hints.

Firstly, there are a number of other versions of these indexes that are closer to the original than the Ancestry indexes – these hints were for events from Victoria, and the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Victoria first produced these indexes on microfiche, and then on CD, and now these can be accessed directly from the Births, Deaths and Marriages website (Family History Research).

Secondly, the indexes can be accessed for free on the Births, Deaths and Marriages website, while a subscription is required to view the index entries at Ancestry.

Another reason why these hints weren’t useful to me was that I had already found Amy’s birth and death entries on the CDs.

Ann Docwra
2 new hints
1871 England Census
England, Select Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991

On reviewing the information in these hints, these records belonged to a different Ann Docwra to the one they were hints for.  I do, however, have the Ann Docwra that the 1871 England Census was for in my tree, so I can now add that record to her.

The Death and burials entry was for a different Ann Docwra again.  Although I don’t yet have that Ann in my tree yet, since Docwra is one of the main surnames I am researching, I have kept the record in case I am later able to link her to the rest of my tree.

Arthur Frederick Johnson (1899-1969)
2 new hints
Australia, Death Index, 1787-1985
British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920

Again, I already had the death entry for Arthur, so that hint wasn’t helpful.

Since Arthur was born, and died, in Australia, it seemed unlikely that he would have served in the British Army.  In order to be sure, I did a search on the National Archives Australia website for a World War 1 Service Record for Arthur Frederick Johnson.  Since there were a number of entries, I decided to use his birthplace in my search.  This only brought up his records from the Second World War, so I tried leaving off his middle name, and just searching for Arthur Johnson Geelong. I then reviewed the information in the service record, to see if this was my Arthur.  This Arthur enlisted in 1915.  He gave his age as 18.  I therefore needed to read through his record further to make sure this was for my Arthur.  Fortunately, his parents needed to give him permission to enlist, and this therefore gave the name of his parents: Frederick and Fanny.  This permission form also listed his full name: Arthur Frederick Johnson.

The British Army record was for a Frederick Arthur Johnson, and his father was also Frederick, so I wanted to confirm that he hadn’t later joined the British Army. I therefore read through the rest of his Australian Service Record, and found that in 1917 Arthur returned to Australia.  His father had become crippled while also serving in World War 1, and Arthur needed to return home to take care of the family. He also admitted to still being under age.  His record showed he returned to Australia on 19 October 1917.  He was then discharged from the A.I.F. on 2 January 1918.

From this, I confirmed that the hint wasn’t for the person in my tree.  However, the hint did help, as it prompted me to do more research to determine whether or not the record the record applied to the person in my tree, and enabled me to find out more about this person.

Thomas Campkin
5 new hints
England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973
England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973
England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975
England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975
England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975

In order to view the details of these records, I need to have a subscription to Ancestry.  These records are also available on the FamilySearch website, which is free.  The added advantage of using FamilySearch, is that I can also then order the microfilm of the original parish registers for viewing at my local Family History Library.

Most of the hints were for collections that need a subscription to view in Ancestry, and are available for free on other sites.  Since I don’t plan to merge records with my Ancestry tree, and I don’t have (can’t afford) a full subscription to Ancestry at the moment, at this stage all I can do with these hints at the moment is ignore the ones I know don’t belong to the person in my tree.

There were only 2 hints for collections that aren’t available for free elsewhere: the 1871 England Census, and British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920.  The hint from the 1871 England Census wasn’t for the person it was a hint for, but did match someone in my tree.  The hint from the British Service Records was for the wrong person. Two of the hints prompted me to do more research on the person in my tree.

Another problem with working on the record hints in the email is that the people you get hints for may not be people you were actually planning on researching at the moment.  This means they fall into the BSO (Bright Shiny Object) category.  Although using the record hints can help you find out more information for these people, if you didn’t plan on researching them, the tendency is to not put as much effort into researching as you would if the research fell into your research plan.

My conclusion is to only review the Record Hints from the emails if you have some spare time. It is also better to use them when you have a full subscription, so that you can view, and download, the records. Otherwise, you should ignore the emails, since you can always go into your Ancestry tree at any time, and select the hints for people you are planning on researching. You can also structure your Research plan, so that you review as many hints as possible while you have a full subscription to ancestry, and then spend the time when you don’t have a subscription to transcribing the records, and updating your family tree.