Michael John Neill started it all with his post: Should You Leave the Leaves Alone? Randy Seaver answered with a post of his own: Shaky Leaves and All - Are They Useful? I've been thinking about this myself. I did a post a while back titled Ancestry Dot Com Made Me A Lazy Genealogist. There are benefits, to be sure, with the program-generated hints, but like most of genealogy itself - this is simply the tip of that iceberg!
I do look at the hints. I have found some useful, some redundant, some just flat-out wrong. I have been happier with the results I've gotten at Ancestry, than at MyHeritage or FindMyPast. For me, the MyHeritage hints have been a complete waste of my time. But that's me. I have heard other's tout the wonders they have found there. I've had a bit of success with FindMyPast - when I need to "jump the pond" their records have proved useful.
I have found some interesting documents that did not show up as hints, but DID show up when I reviewed a hint. Have you noticed, off to the right on Ancestry when you choose to review a hint, there is a box with other suggested hints? It is here I have made some good finds. Why didn't these hints show up to begin with? I don't have an answer for that.
My choice is to review the leaves and consider the hints that are being presented. I (gasp!) never just attach, willy-nilly, all hints that show up. So may are wrong. Or from questionable sources. In a perfect world I would love the ability to turn off not only tree hints on Ancestry (which is a given), but also millennium files, family data collections, US and international records, US and Canada, passenger and immigration list indexes, and all photos. That would leave a much narrower field of hints, but also a much more useful field of hints.
There are a lot of duplicate records across all the major players. It can get quite wearisome to sort through the same things times and time again.
I can see both sides to this. Using the hints, and only the hints, you will miss things. You are not performing a reasonably exhaustive search, by any means. Never using the hints adds a layer of challenge, but the results of doing a manual search may be more rewarding.
As for me, I chose to use the hints to confirm the basics, the bones of a timeline. Then I dig deeper with a manual search, across multiple databases, to ferret out the gems, the nuggets that only a deeper look will uncover.
It's never one and done. And new records are being added all the time.
The hints are tools for me, sometimes they are sharp and work well, other times they are dull and need to be passed over. As Michael said: "Your mileage may vary."
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