Saturday, June 13, 2020

Sifting Through Hints for Cousin Bait

Use surname filtering to focus on cousin bait

If you're looking for cousin bait, you have to focus your attention on the most productive possibilities when sifting through family-tree hints on Ancestry.

At left, the hint summary for my husband's family tree on Ancestry. There are 3,200 people on this tree, so it's not surprising that I have so many total hints.

Stories and photos are often very good cousin bait, especially if you filter the hints by surname as you focus on specific ancestral lines. Then you can look at the contributor's profile and tree (if public) to see how he or she fits into your family tree. (I'm not going to talk about DNA or ThruLines in this post--topics for another time!)

Stories as Cousin Bait

In this case, I looked at all 21 of the "stories" to see what they are, who posted them, and how many were personal vs. transcribed documents or records. Most could be seen without downloading any files (which I won't do unless I know the person, just in case).

Many of the stories were summaries of family histories with footnotes leading to county histories or other books. Two were transcriptions of will/probate materials for distant ancestors. All useful in my research, but not specifically cousin bait, although of course I checked to see how the contributors might fit into the family tree.

A good number of these 21 stories were transcriptions of oral history from someone who actually knew one of my husband's ancestors! Great cousin bait. I've now invited that contributor to see my public family tree, and he has invited me to see his public family tree. There is a distant cousin connection here, and the oral history posted as stories served as effective cousin bait to reel me in.

Photos as Cousin Bait

Ineffective as cousin bait
My favorite cousin bait (to leave as bait or to follow as bait) is a personal photo of an ancestor.

With 627 photo hints to sift through, I narrowed the focus by specifying a particular surname for searching photo hints.

Within the photo hints for McClure were dozens of flags, patriotic images, DNA symbols, and other non-personal images.

These are NOT effective cousin bait. Folks like to use such images to tag certain categories of ancestors, but they don't work well for cousin bait.

On the other hand, the photo shown below is top-notch cousin bait I discovered when searching photo hints for Larimer, another of my husband's ancestral surnames.

Effective cousin bait: A personal photo with a title
Not only is it a real photo, it has a title that indicates who and what the photo is about (I masked some info for privacy). I've confirmed that the person who posted the photo is actually a cousin. He has meticulously researched his branch of the tree and we are now guests on each other's family trees, sharing info about the Larimer line.

For all the other record hints, I will filter by surname and work down the list. I don't generally check family tree hints this way, by the way. Instead, I look at them when I'm researching a particular ancestor.

Have fun with #CousinBait! 


  1. These are some great tips, Marian. I don't pay enough attention to the Ancestry hints (thanks in large part to the dozens of flags, DNA double helix, etc. that drown out the quality contributions!). I appreciate the prompt and reminder to do so.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! The flags and other non personal images too often outnumber the personal photos but by filtering I can manage the hints in accordance with the ancestors I’m researching at any given time.

  2. I missed a recent lecture on cousin bait. Is there a schedule of your upcoming lectures posted somewhere that I can check?

    1. Hi! My fall/winter schedule will soon be posted on the MY GENEALOGY PRESENTATIONS page (see tab at the top, on this blog's masthead). Yes, I will be presented a new and improved "cousin bait" talk this autumn. Thanks for your interest!