Those Shaky Leaf Hints

I have a love/hate relationship with the Shaky Leaf Hints on Ancestry.com. Sometimes I think they’re annoying little attention-seeking scolds demanding I do something with them. I want to love them instead of hate them because they’re important to the process of discovering new things about my family.

Over the years I’ve experimented with different strategies for dealing with them. Inadvertently I became a hint power user. Anne Gillespie Mitchell from Ancestry has a nifty Five Minute Find video on this topic. I recommend it for tips on using Hints in general. I stumbled into the power user process on my own awhile ago, but now that I’ve changed my focus for my genealogy from gathering records to interpreting those records to learn more about my ancestors, the power-using technique is no longer useful for me.

Recently I began the process of trying to prove that John Holmes and Sarah Collins were the parents of my Abigail Holmes Wood. This involved spending a lot of time learning about descendants from other children of this couple. Well, that generated about a thousand new hints. That’s a number that is well out of my comfort zone. Crista Cowan is someone whose work at Ancestry as the Barefoot Genealogist I admire greatly. I’m a straight-up fan. She recommends learning to live with all those hints, so I tried. I really did try to learn to live with them. I failed.

I just can't help myself.
I just can’t help myself.

One of my strategies for dealing with hints is to ‘park’ them as Ignored Hints. I begin the process by using the ‘Filter By’ feature using the letters of the alphabet.

Filter

When you have 1000 hints, it’s pretty daunting, so going through one letter of the alphabet at a time breaks it into manageable portions. The lists by letter are far smaller. I could use the ‘filter by name’ feature, but then I’d have to know the names. I don’t have a huge tree, but it is certainly too big to remember all the surnames. The alphabet is pretty handy for overcoming that problem.

I click on the hints in the list rather than the name because it takes me directly to the hint page. Saves a step. I ignore ALL the hints. That parks them as ignored hints.

Ignore

They don’t go away when they’re ignored. They just sit there waiting for me if I ever want to work on an individual or family at a later date. The first thing I do when I chose someone to work on is check the ignored hints. In this case the Find A Grave database is pretty easy to ignore because I already have links to these records for people (many of which are memorials I created), so this is just a more complex resource that includes other family members and burials. That database alone accounted for about 15% of the total hints I had. Adding this to a profile usually just generates more hints; that was counter-productive for my strategy.

As it turns out, there is an actual psychological benefit to ignoring all the hints until I have a need for them. It’s called avoiding Decision Fatigue. Like it or not, evaluating hints requires making decisions about whether or not to accept or decline the information the hint offers. Ignoring them all means I only have to make one decision for all the hints. This is especially true for people on my tree that I don’t even know who they are and have no interest in adding more information or family members to them. These people are the product of my early years with ancestry as well as the addition of the lineage of various other family members like the former spouses of cousins. Having a lot of hints is like mental clutter and they represent the potential need to make decisions. I get worn out just thinking about them. Ignoring them fixes all that. It has the added benefit of helping me avoid getting distracted from my stated goal of understanding the documents I already have by not gathering even more documents to study.

The other problem with being a hints power user was lack of context. I’d click on a hint and discover I had no idea who the person was or how they were related to other people on the tree and get frustrated. It made it harder to evaluate if the hint was something I wanted to bother with accepting. Recently I happened upon a new way (to me) to look at hints so that they’re in context. If I do want to work on a family and pursue a batch of new hints, I can use the Family Group Sheet to view them in context.

Screen grab profile page

The Family Group Sheet can be found at the bottom of the list of children for any given couple. It take you to a page like this:

Screen grab family group sheet with hints

This puts all the hints for a set of parents and their offspring all on one page where they make sense and provides me with a frame of reference when I do decide I’m ready to take on the decision making process. This only works for new hints, not ignored ones. If I get a backlog on an important family, or want to stimulate Ancestry to generate a set of hints for me on a family, opening the Family Group Sheet works for that. I like knowing this is a potential strategy to use when I’m ready to experiment again.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas for experimenting with those learn-to-love ’em somehow Shaky Leaf Hints on your tree.

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