How I Debunked an Online Tree Hint

Geoff Rasmussen
Jun 10, 2022
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Case Study
6m 08s

About this webinar

Hints in online trees can provide genealogical treasures, but if you’re not careful they can lead to genealogical regret. In this quick video, Geoff Rasmussen shows why hints should be explored, scrutinized and evaluated.

About the speaker

About the speaker

Geoffrey D. Rasmussen is the father of four budding genealogists. He graduated with a degree in Genealogy and Family History from Brigham Young University and has served as director and vice-president of the Utah Genealogical Association. He is th
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  1. LS
    Lucy Simpson
    3 weeks ago

    Great article—-yes, yes, yes hints should be explored, scrutinized and evaluated! Also, I suggest equally as important for the elusive “person of interest” you should look at the other ancestor trees I have looked at every tree (even if there are 100 or more) just to see if there is one date, place, etc. is a “hint” to help me find information. And I could write a book on what I have discovered. Even names to attach to photos that I own without identification
    And love the photos–others have posted. I always check out who posted it originally—many people download the pictures I own or added to findagrave.com and then they add them to their tree. It is better to find them on ancestry tree by the original owner. Sometimes i added them many years ago, but the new person makes the hint appear—sad to do this. I like it when many people have added my photos—then I can see their connections, etc.

    Reply
  2. DC
    David Casassa
    3 weeks ago

    Great reminder! I’ve been down a few such rabbit holes myself, most especially when the hint was based on a user-submitted tree. Fortunately, your case study cited a source that was dispositive in the end. Often as not, these trees are unsourced, which doesn’t seem to impede the hinting algorithm at all.

    Still, there may be a golden nugget buried in the hint. In one fateful instance on FamilySearch, I drilled down into a person who was not a match with my ancestor, except for his rare surname.That led to a passenger manifest listing the stranger’s origin in unusually specific terms: a tiny (pop. < 1000) Italian village, unknown to me, which was virtually the only place where the surname existed. In the span of an evening, this led me to the Antenati site and the baptismal records of my great-grandfather, his six siblings, and the definitive names of their parents, which had been scrambled by my family's oral tradition in just 3 generations.Quite a productive little rabbit hole that!

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    1 Reply
    • LS
      Lucy Simpson
      3 weeks ago

      Great response that I whole-heartedly agree with! When I see Ancestry Trees with a name I am puzzled over and have little data, I check every tree for that person. And I check their sources for that person. I have found so much information this way. For example: I have researched census records for a person for a long time to no avail or for ship record or????? And I have found by looking at their sources and actual documents, they have found the exact person I wanted to find. but (the spelling was off or other mistakes were made–age, spouse, etc but they WERE the person I have not been able to find.

      1
  3. GC
    Gay Campbell
    3 weeks ago

    Excellent! Now, trying to convince everyone to follow is the tricky trick!

    Reply
  4. JB
    Joanne Black
    3 weeks ago

    Geoff, so well explained/shown. I wish it were “required” listening for everyone who has an online genealogy site membership. Love Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Joanna

    Reply
  5. KG
    Kirk Graff
    3 weeks ago

    Yeah, someone has been editing my family in FamilySearch and now my grandma is my mother. No idea how to fix it.

    Reply
  6. PR
    Peter Rollin
    3 weeks ago

    Unfortunately these “Hints”are accepted as fact by too many people without question! I have my own example of my 3x Great Grandparents William and Susannah Rollin. At the 1851 UK census William was not at home, so Susannah was recorded as “Head”. Listed with her was a William Farrand, shown as “father”. Consequently the Ancestry transcript showed Susannah’s maiden name as FARRAND.
    This was completely wrong. William Rollin was the illegitimate child of William Farrand and Susannah’s maiden name was Whitaker!
    Regardless, dozen’s of trees on Ancestry, My History and Find My Past now show the pair as William Rollin and Susannah Farrand, with ancestries that are pure fiction.
    However, these erroneous trees still exist, and are still being copied.

    Peter Rollin

    Reply
    1 Reply
    • LS
      Lucy Simpson
      3 weeks ago

      I too, see mistakes like this…on my trees. I always do as Greg did and send the correct information with documentation or send the reason why this connection is impossible and wrong. I do this if there are even 10 or 20 trees. I make up a note and send it and documentation to them all. (Many times I am able to correct all the trees, which makes me so happy.) I know that after a person passes or quits paying on Ancestry the tree lives on and impossible to correct unless another person with password is able to work on the tree.

      1
  7. ML
    Mary Lou Gravatt
    3 weeks ago

    Geoff, Thank you for this quick video. I understand about people having the same names and so many hints are the wrong people.
    Mary Lou Morris Gravatt

    Reply
  8. BL
    Barbara Langston
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you SO much for this! I found an error that has been reported in an historical book about New Hampshire and one about the family Batchelder (aka Bachiller, Bachelder, Bacheldor). They had the wrong wife, which I only found by putting together a big lawsuit that ran from the 1860’s for 20 years or so, AND the widow’s pension application for the Civil War. Even then, I had to connect the correct woman’s name with her sister, because there are so many Nathaniel Batchelder and Mary Perkins names in that area and era. Some people do not want to accept it because I’m nobody and the authors of the books are kind of well known. Nevertheless, I did like you and posted the citations and copies of the documents which are incontrovertible. It bugs me that some people still don’t want to accept it!

    Reply
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