Should You Take Ancestry’s Suggestions?

When you're looking at a specific record on Ancestry.com, you might have noticed a section of "Suggested Records." Here's what they are, how they got there, and whether or not you should listen to them. 

Should You Take Ancestry's Suggestions?

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What Is a Suggested Record?

Ancestry has two ways of showing you other records that might pertain to the person you're researching: Hints and Suggested Records. They are not the same thing. 

Hints are generated via Ancestry's algorithm and are represented by those familiar shaky leaves. They may or may not be right. Ancestry also only hints on the most popular collections.

Suggested Records, on the other hand, are generated via what actions other users have done with that record. Per Ancestry's website:

"Using the information from this record transcription, Ancestry searches for other records that may be related to the same person. The suggestions system also looks at people in trees to which this record has been saved to see if there are additional records saved to those people. These records are displayed here to aid you in finding other records that may help you in your research." (From Ancestry's tool tip on Suggested Records; emphasis added.)

Suggested Records, unlike Hints, come at least partially from what people have done on their Ancestry Family Trees. That's both good and bad. 

It's good, in that you might find records that you wouldn't have considered otherwise. 

Where we as researchers need to be careful is when we take the suggestion without evaluating it. Remember, these suggestions are based at least in part on other people's trees. (I don't believe in discounting or ignoring online trees, but I strongly believe that they, like any other source, need to be evaluated.)

Suggestions for My Matilda Debolt Skinner Crossen Brown McFillen

When I looked on Ancestry at the 1880 census record for Matilda Skinner in Williams County, Ohio, it had several suggested records:

Ancestry's record of the 1880 census for Matilda Skinner in Williams County, Ohio, plus Suggested Records on the right. (Click to enlarge.)

One of the Suggested Records is from "U.S. Selected Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880." Cool! I like non-population schedules. This record in particular is for Matilda Skinner in the 1880 agricultural schedule of Licking County, Ohio. 

Wait. Wasn't I just looking at Matilda in the 1880 census in Williams County, Ohio? 

(If you're not familiar with Ohio geography, Williams County is in the extreme northwestern corner of the state. Licking County is in the central part of the state. They're almost 200 miles apart, if you're traveling by car.)

So how does someone appear on the "regular" part of the census in Williams County and in the agricultural census in Licking County in the same year? Short answer (at least in this case): they don't. 

The Matilda Skinner in Williams County was born circa 1813. The Matilda Skinner in Licking County was born around 1838. (I discovered that by searching for her in the population schedule in Licking County.) 

However, because people have attached both the Williams County record and the Licking County record to the same person in their trees, Ancestry has decided that it would be good to show this as a Suggested Record. 

Not All Suggestions Are Good Ones

Some suggestions are welcome, like when a friend recommends a movie that you ended up enjoying. But we know that not all of our friend's suggestions turn out to be good ones. It's the same with Ancestry's Suggested Records. Just because they suggest it and others have added it to their trees doesn't mean that it's right for you. 

Should You Take Ancestry's Suggestions
There's a section on Ancestry.com called Suggested Records. Here's what they are, how they got there, and whether or not you should pay attention to them. #genealogy

13 thoughts on “Should You Take Ancestry’s Suggestions?

  1. This may be a “stupid question” but how do I get back to the suggested records once I have exhausted all the hints? I have yet to figure out how to do this but there must be a simple answer!! Thanks…….

    • No stupid questions 🙂 If you go to a specific record, especially one that you’ve attached to someone in your tree, you’ll see them over on the right-hand side of the page.

      • Another thing that I do when I notice one I want to explore is open it in a new tab. That way I don’t forget to look at it. I don’t do that for every suggested record, but for the ones I’m pretty sure I want to check, I find it helpful.

  2. Excellent post, Amy. The suggested records are my shortcuts when I’m looking into a particular person. I open each in a new tab, arrange them in chronological order, and then evaluate. When there are no or little suggestions, I click on another person in the original records (marriage record – the spouse; census – others in household). Very often this will help to find a record which may be “hidden” due to an error in transcription etc.

  3. Wonderful post. I’ve had relatives “kidnapped” by others who never bothered to look closely at the record! I once had a beginning researcher tell me that they used the record because Ancestry suggested it. To tell the truth, I use Family Search for my tree but they also have “hints” and the same thing can happen. The only gripe I have with FamilySearch, is they are beginning to use “computer generated” records and these, without exception, contain numerous errors. I once saw a man listed as his own father’s father because he was a priest and had the prefix “Father” before his name.

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