How to Use "Record Hints"

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  • Thanks to modern technology, several websites have developed software that can give suggestions or hints of genealogical records that may be for your ancestors. These hints include links to online databases and digital images of genealogical records.
  • When you click on a record hint, you will be led to a list of indexed records that seem to be a close match to one of your ancestors. Because the computer can scan the database for these matches, you can very quickly find censuses, civil registration, cemetery records, and more for your ancestors.
  • However, record hint features must be used with an understanding of what they can and cannot do.

Limitations of hint features[edit | edit source]

Warning! Computers can only do so much. Some important records will be missed by the computer.

1. From the Engineers of Family Tree:

"We will be rolling out hints incrementally. We won't be exposing all possible matches on day one. Keep coming back to the site regularly, as you will see more.
"You also may find a good match in searching that hasn't yet been exposed in hinting. Will this never end? No, not really.
"'New records will always be published...
"Hinting is a way of skimming good matches off the top and presenting them to users....There are still going to be many records in the databases that require refined skills to find them, correlate them and make proper conclusions about them." [1]

2. Many of the databases accessed by hints are incomplete and still growing, especially cemetery records. Researchers are transcribing cemeteries and adding new records still. Either check for hints again and again, or periodically recheck the cenetery databases on your own.

3. Computers can only pick up links they are programmed to. Unusual entries for your ancestor that do not match the search criteria, such as spelling variations, will be missed.

4. For the same reason, if records for your ancestor were in a different geographic location than expected, the computer won't "see" them. For example, If your information tells the computer your ancestor was born in Massachusetts and died in California, it might only search those two states for records. If your ancestor migrated gradually to California, briefly living in Iowa or Kansas along the way, the computer will not check for records from there.

6. There are many important databases not accessed by the hints. For example, several states offer databases of their birth, marriage, and death records that are not included in the collections of or FamilySearch. Many wills and probate records are held at the county level and have not been digitized or indexed.

7. The hints will also pick up close matches that are not your ancestors. Study each record carefully and determine whether the linked record really is your ancestor.

8. The hint search engine might not pick up women by their maiden names, or it might not find them by their married names.

9. The databases the computer uses are indexes. If a transcription error was made during the indexing process, the record will not show up in hints, perhaps leading you to believe the record doesn't exist.

How to recognize hints links in popular databases[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch FamilyTree[edit | edit source]

  • To see hints on Family Tree, you must have information on your ancestors already in the tree, including their names and identifying information such as birth, marriage, or death.
  • From the pedigree view, blue icons indicate that hints are available. Clicking on the icon opens up a box showing hint links.
FamilyTree record hints pedigree view.png
  • From the person view, blue boxes in the right sidebar under "Research Help" mark links to record hints.
FamilyTree record hints person view.png[edit | edit source]

  • Hints are found by entering your ancestor's name, approximate birth year, and birth place in the "Search" fields. Next a list of possible records appears.
  • Record hints at appear in the right sidebar under "Suggested Records".
  • is a subscription website. However, you can search it for free at a family history center. suggested records.png
  • If you have posted your records on a Tree at, you will periodically receive email messages of record hints.
Ancestry hints.png[edit | edit source]

  • To see hints on, you must have information on your ancestors already in the tree including their names and identifying information such as birth, marriage, or death.
  • Hints in are shown on your pedigree with a brown icon. Click on or hover over the icon and then click on "Record Searches", and a list of record links will appear.
  • is a fee-based website. However, you can search it for free at a family history center.
MyHeritage hints.png
  • If you have posted your records on MyHeritage, you will periodically receive emails of record hints.