The idea of adding research hints to online family trees is one of the most useful and productive recent innovations in the online genealogical community. There are certain requirements that had to be developed in order for this type of research hinting process to become effective. The first and main requirement was the ability to amass a sufficiently large amount of genealogical data in a searchable format and indexed that could support a record hint capability. In supporting the underlying ability of programs to offer such a feature, it was necessary to have the computer power and availability of the network developed to the stage that such a concept was even possible.
Fortunately, for those of us who are online and have taken advantage of this new technology, we are finding an almost overwhelming number of basic research connections and adding sources to the individuals in our family trees.
FamilySearch.org was not the first online family tree program to implement record hints. The first developed use of record hands in conjunction with a family tree was developed by Ancestry.com in their green "shaky" lease record suggestions or hints. The development of record hints was pushed to a new level by MyHeritage.com when they released their Record Match and Record Detective programs in conjunction with their online family trees. By increasing the accuracy of the record hints, MyHeritage.com led the way to an increase in accuracy by the other two programs.
Record hands are valuable from a number of standpoints. Of course, they provide suggested sources but the underlying concept is that sources can be the way to provide additional information about families and to extend the family lines. The important point is that the researcher is encouraged to move from a name-based standpoint to a source-based research base. In the past, the practice has been to obtain a name of an ancestor from some source, such as a previous researcher's efforts, i.e. a family history oriented relative, and then proceed to attempt to prove that the information given was correct. For example, current researcher is given the name of a distant ancestor and then attempts to find specific information about the ancestors such as a birth date, marriage date, death date etc. In contrast, in a source-based research effort, the idea is to look for sources to extend the family line before focusing on names.
There is a subtle difference between MyHeritage.com's use of Record Matches and the Record Hints on FamilySearch.com's Family Tree. MyHeritage.com suggests Record Matches completely independently of the family tree. You can look at Record Matches on MyHeritage.com without going to your family tree at all. However, on FamilySearch.org, you not only need to go to your family tree, but you must also go down to the level of the individual before you can obtain a record hint. In other words, FamilySearch.org presupposes that you have already identified your ancestor before you are given any record hints. Whereas, MyHeritage.com promotes the concept of Record Matches and Record Detective independently of involvement in the family tree directly. Once you have a minimal amount of information available to MyHeritage about your family, the program immediately begins offering additional sources for information that may assist in extending your family lines.
All of the online companies with record hints can help to extend your family lines by offering undiscovered family members, but this can only happen after a certain amount of information has already been entered into the programs in the form of a family tree.
No matter how a record is obtained, in all of the programs it is necessary to evaluate the suggested records before attaching them to your individual family records. Although the programs, including FamilySearch.org, are becoming more accurate in suggesting applicable record hints, it is still necessary for the user to become involved in the process of adding the records so that there is some assurance that there is a connection between the offered record and the individual in the family tree.
When this technology was in the developmental stage, the accuracy of the hints was not very impressive. We have moved way past that stage, but there is still a necessity for the individual to carefully examine each record hint to make sure that the right person is been identified. In addition, in each of the programs, including FamilySearch.org's Family Tree, the user must also evaluate each item offered as facts from the record hint. In some cases, the record hint will be less accurate or more incomplete than the information already in the user's file. In this case, it is necessary to carefully examine each item suggested and either accept or reject the item's inclusion.
Ultimately I would hope that many more of those involved in online family tree programs will avail themselves of this record hinting capability and began to correct the information presently contained in the online family trees.