Presently, I have 14,422 Record Matches provided to me by MyHeritage.com. I also have over 100,000 Smart Matches. How long would it have taken me to individually search for and find each of those potential sources? I also have 8,981 Record Hints waiting in Findmypast.com. If you add in the number of Record Hints I have waiting for processing on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree and the 9,793 Record Hints I have waiting in Ancestry.com, you can begin to see what I have been talking about in this series. By the way, the total of number of record hints is actually much larger since when I confirm a record hint, the programs will automatically look for more based on my confirmation.
If you do not understand what those numbers mean, then you are simply unaware of the reason for this series. What this means is that these four programs have extensive documentation for the names of the people in my family tree without any effort on my part other than entering the names the first time into the program. Here are some thoughts on how to handle all this information.
- Start small. Take your time entering names into these online family trees. DO NOT start by uploading a GEDCOM file of your existing database. Those of us that have thousands of names in a database, some without adequate documentation, cannot assume that our information is correct.
- Let the programs do their work. As you receive record hints, take the time to think and not just click. Record hints are just that: hints. You still have to think about what you are doing and figure out if the programs have found the right information for the right people. They are not 100% accurate.
- Start by adding in records for your own parents etc. one-by-one. It is a huge mistake to start a pedigree on any one of these programs that does not link back to yourself. The programs as based on a pattern of ancestry beginning with yourself. If you start trying to find someone back centuries, the programs will not be much help at all. You are also making an assumption that all of your previous research is accurate. This may not be the case.
- Designate a database program as your "master" file. It does not matter which program you choose. The program can be a standalone database on your computer or one of the online family tree programs, but you need to have a central place to gather the records from all these record hints and the other research you have already done.
- Don't make the mistake of assuming you don't need to add all these sources to your files. Some people think they already know everything about their ancestors and these "sources" are just a bother. This is a real serious mistake. Genealogists have already spent too much time repeating research that has already been done. Let the programs help you untangle the mess you may have inadvertently created by assuming your pedigree was already done.
- Focus on the individuals you are researching and ignore the rest for the time being. You don't have to do your own research according to the schedule of those who write computer programs. Choose the people you want to investigate and ignore hints for all those relatives you have not yet become acquainted with.
- Build a solid base of information about your ancestors and their descendants. Add sources to each individual in your family tree, family by family and individual by individual. Do not heed the siren call of the missing ancestor. Wait until you have adequately documented your entire connection to the remote ancestors before spending a great deal of time looking for them.
- Recognize the fact that each of these programs has a finite set of records. This means that they may not find any records for a specific individual. It may also mean that you have the wrong name, wrong places or wrong dates.
- Resist the temptation to add in people from your unsubstantiated pedigree, i.e. those lacking identifying source records. This is one of the major issues I find with those working on the their ancestry. They assume that Aunt Matilda or Grandmother Jones were perfect and everything they said about their ancestry is correct. This is a major trap for the unwary.
- Any ancestor with no source records is suspect. If you skip over an ancestor with no sources, you are simply copying and not doing research.
- Add in all the sources found, even those that duplicate sources you already know about. These programs need to be told that the searches they make are correct. You need to confirm a match even if the record is a duplicate of one you have already found. If that bothers you, then you don't understand the process or the programs.
This list could go on and on. But it is time to summarize. You will find links to many other family tree programs in addition to the four I highlighted above. The answer to looking at a suggested relative from another family tree is to ask is there are any sources documenting the connection with your own family. Many people, like me, added people to my file without proper documentation. In my case, this was done years ago before I learned about the need for sources for each individual. Presently, I am in the process of documenting every individual in my ancestry. I am back to the sixth generation and moving down the list of ancestors. I will then move on to the seventh generation where many of the people listed are not substantiated at all and where I will likely run out of record hints entirely. Even if you decide to investigate a single ancestral line and ignore the others, you need to do this systematically and not base your research on the assumption that the pedigree you have recorded is correct. Remember, when I say I am working on the sixth generation, I have, at least, 32 sets of ancestors, unless there are more through multiple marriages.
Overall, let the programs help you find the right people in your ancestral lines. Don't fight the technology and don't ignore it. Now, think about how this changes the way you might have approached genealogical research in the past.
Don't worry, I am going to write about what happens when the record hints fail to provide any sources. Stay tuned.