How to Use Ancestry’s Hints Without Going Crazy

Many genealogists have a love/hate relationship with Ancestry's hints. Those little shaky leaves can yield great clues, but like leaves in the fall, it can feel overwhelming when they start piling up. Here's how to manage those hints.

How to Use Ancestry's Hints Without Going Crazy


Ignore the Numbers

The most straightforward way to not feel overwhelmed with all of the hints is to ignore the number of them that you have. We've been conditioned to react whenever there is a number showing by an icon. (Personally, I don't like my phone telling me how many unread emails I have!)

How to Use Ancestry Hints Without Going Crazy

If it bothers you to see that you have more than 99 new hints, just click on the leaf icon. The number will go away. (The hints will still be there, but you won't see the number.)

After I clicked the leaf icon, the number went away.

Keep Your Focus

Just when you think you've gotten to the end of the hints, Ancestry adds more. Ancestry doesn't give all of the hints for a person at once. Show some activity for a person (especially one you haven't worked on for awhile), and Ancestry will think you're now focused on that person... and give you more hints.

Rather than wading through all of the hints, focus instead on the ancestor that you're working on. (I don't know about you, but I don't have the time or the inclination to try to wade through more than 10,000 hints!)

10K total hints?!

Instead of working through my 10K hints in this tree, I'll take a look at one ancestor. When I go into my tree and look at the profile for one of my ancestors, I click the "Hints" tab so I can see the hints for just that person. Here's the page for my great-great-grandmother Lavada Jane (McKitrick) Mason. Now instead of more than 10,000 hints, I'm working with just 5.

An added benefit for working with hints from the ancestor's profile page is that you'll be less distracted by all of those other hints. Less distraction = better chance of staying out of the genealogy rabbit hole

Randy Seaver at the Genea-Musings blog has a post about how to filter the hints by collection. If that's a method that will work for you, go for it! 

Don't Just Accept

Another way that Ancestry's hints can make us go a little crazy is when they jumble up our tree. I've seen some real messes created when people just click "accept" and attach that record to their tree (or worse, add a bunch of people based on someone else's tree.)

I've written before about why you need to review a hint before accepting it, but it boils down to this: That hint might be wrong. Just because Ancestry serves it up on a shaky leaf doesn't automatically mean that it pertains to your ancestor. 

Take control of your Ancestry hints and you'll make more progress with your research.

Take control of your Ancestry hints and make more progress with your #genealogy.

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How to Use Ancestry's Hints Without Going Crazy
Posted: August 3, 2017.

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  • I wish the hints would stop repeating! I get hints I already have the data for – drives me bonkers!

    • If the record is in multiple collections, you could see it multiple times. I’ve had that happen on some of the vital records collections where there is a text-only index plus another collection that has the image. Also, you could get multiple hints to a photo that is saved to different trees. It is frustrating.

  • This is a very good article on how to handle the green leaf hints. Thank you for the advice.
    Jack Steele
    Ontario, Canada

  • I find Randy Seaver’s method of searching a collection at a time to best for me. 1. They have the same source, with just the citation changing. 2. Working one one collection at a time I get in the groove of reading that collection, knowing what to look for. 3. My media file names are similar with only names and dates changing.

    • It is a good system. My challenge with it is that it leads me down more rabbit holes — I end up looking at ancestors that aren’t connected to the problem I’m trying to solve. It’s hard to put blinders on sometimes!

  • I know what you mean! I keep getting hints for stuff I originally added, plus the same hints that someone took from me and now show up under both our names.

    • Carolyn,

      I get the same!
      Sometimes when I’m waiting in a line for some reason and need something to keep my mind of the clock, I go thru, say, just the photo hints and just delete the duplicates. It’s not a great use of time, but it’s better than me upset over how long I am spending in line.

      As a general rule, I do the same, Amy. I just click on the number so it goes away. I don’t feel so bad about having 6K hints now…you have many more!


    • And worse yet- I get a leaf for a photo that I shared- and now it ‘belongs’ to someone else who has added it under their name-

      • I took a clue from a newly found cousin. I now add to the photo description: “Photo held by” and I add my name. This let’s everyone know where the photo originated.

        • Jean, thank you for that suggestion. I have had people use a photo from my tree, where I have the original. I’ve contacted a couple of them, asking about the relationship, but don’t get an answer. If their tree is then private I’m not able to tell why they wanted that photo.

    • When you click on the leaf at the very top of the Ancestry site, you’ll see the newest hints there. When you go into the full list, you can sort by “Most Recent.”

  • One thing I noticed is that when you view the details of someone on your tree on Ancestry’s site, or in Family Tree Maker if you sync with Ancestry, it initiates a refresh of searching for new hints for that person. If you happen to peek at someone on a branch that you don’t often work on, or accidentally click on someone, this can add a bunch of new hints to your list.

    • That’s exactly right, Bill. New activity on a person in your tree is a signal to Ancestry that you’re interested in researching that person, so they’ll unleash more hints for that person.

  • Great article about dealing with hint overload. I’m thankful for the hints, don’t get me wrong, but it *can* be overwhelming.
    On a related note, I’d love to see some best practices for reviewing & accepting hints from “Ancestry member trees”. I searched your blog for that, but nothing jumped out at me. My usual practice is to pull up the other member’s entry for the alleged ancestor and review their sources — if they used something besides other members trees, and their sources are different from what I’ve found for that ancestor, I’ll dig deeper. But I’d love to see more tips on that topic! Thanks!

  • Yes, it can be frustrating,but your suggestion is a good one. Unfortunately, Ancestry now has picked up My Heritage’s habit of sending e-mails with the newest hints, which can be annoying. I research in the Dominican Republic. Since Latin names are common in all South American countries and Spain I get a ton of useless hints. They should have a filter for that; at least My Heritage does.

  • I ignore what is up there and concentrate on one person at a time. Don’t forget to kill off hints for the parents of the inlaws. It’s very important to remember this. This will stop the hints from coming for these parents. You want descendants, not the uplines not related to you.

  • The hints that bother me the most are when I have more complete information and the hint gives me less but says the data is “Different”. Example: I have “San Antonio, Bexar, TX USA” and the hint is “Bexar County, Texas”. A waste of time reviewing, but thankfully easy to “Ignore”.

  • One of the most annoying things to me is to get a bunch of hints and when I look at them, i find that many of them are hints from the family tree that I posted on Ancestry. It would seem to me that Ancestry could filter out any “:hints” that were created from my own tree since my tree is attached to the same user name as my current online Ancestry session. Has anyone else experienced this issue?

    • I haven’t had it happen that it will hint to the same tree when I’m looking at a person in that tree, but I have had it hint to other trees of mine that have that same person. (For example, if I have my great-grandfather listed in my public tree and in a private tree that I have as a “working tree,” it will hint to the public tree when I’m looking at him in my private tree.) Definitely annoying.

    • Constantly. Click on Ancestor hints, person or persons come up with little or no info (no census, draft, burials, etc.), but when I click on their “research” I come up as the person who provided the info. The only good that comes from it is that I can see the names of other researchers, at least some who are relatives.

    • Yes, I get my own posts returned to me all the time. I just got 34 hints for my father and they all originated from me.

  • You can also choose to exclude Ancestry Family Trees from the hints. Just go to Site Preferences under your profile name and it’s the first option.

    This cuts my hints down by much more than half. I don’t need all my cousins’ trees in my hints over and over, and for new people member trees are often suspect. If I have no idea where to start for a new person, I can always search in Ancestry Trees for ideas.

  • I would like to turn off all of the “photo” hints that are just pictures of flags, churches and bogus family crests. Actually, I would like to turn off the hints totally and just reactivate when I am really stuck on a person.

  • I start off by ignoring the family tree hints and concentrate on finding facts that can be documented…then if some of those seem suspect or not useful I go to the family trees and see what they have and if they have documented information that can be used to fill in missing pieces.

  • I’ve learned how to properly manage Ancestry hints. What’s worse are My Heritage Smart Matches, Discoveries and GENI connections. They are much more time-consuming and difficult to sift through. I feel they are intended for people who don’t do in-depth research and just want to add numbers to their trees. I am discontinuing my subscription with MH; I’ll gladly live with Ancestry’s hints, despite all its faults.

  • When I accept a hint, and link to my tree, keeps showing me that same record as a “hint”, and when I click on it, the response is that’s already in your tree. So, how do I get to stop showing the same hints over and over and over? (No, this isn’t an issue involving multiple trees, since the person in question appears only in one tree.) If you can help me solve this one I’ll be forever grateful!

  • Every so often, I go to all hints for a particular tree. Then I sort by person, filter by “member trees” and click on ignore for all of them. (That way, they’re still there as “ignored hints” for that person if I need a clue.) I do the same thing with those annoying generic photos that I hate so much and duplicates of the same photo. Now if only there was a way to get rid of “ghost hints”, I’d be truly happy.

  • I seldom start with the Ancestry Member Trees. I start with “paper” facts- census, birth, marriage, death records or certificates, and obits. I want facts before I turn to “hints”. Sorry, I just don’t trust most of the people who make trees. Once I find a tree that is “reliable” then I will compare to see what “facts” they have. Most useful thing about the trees is the possibility of finding parents. Once I find them, the routine starts again with facts.

    • You don’t have to even look at hints from trees if you don’t want to. Hints come not only from trees, but also from the sources like you mentioned — census, vital records, etc.

  • My pet annoyance is hints for people I do not intend to follow up. For example, I have an entry for the spouse and children of a cousin I’ve discovered. Once they are in my tree, I don’t want any more hints for them. I wish there were a way to tell Ancestry to turn off hints for a single person.

  • Do you have any advice on how to verify if the hint points to an actual ancestor? I have no idea where to start. The family I had that knew the most about our family tree have passed.

  • I am very careful about adding other people’s family tree information on to mine. I had to delete an ancestor after adding someone else’s family tree to mine which caused that ancestor to become his own father. I now look at all the hints that are not family trees first and evaluate the information. This gives me a better chance at evaluating information on other people’s family trees.