Ancestry suggested records

Ancestry suggested records

Ancestry suggested records * can be a useful feature when looking to expand your family tree. They can also be very misleading and for sure are no substitution for ‘doing it yourself’.

To illustrate, I am taking the Lowthian family of Great Salkeld, Cumberland. With some advice for all family historians at the end.

The Lowthian family

I was looking through memorial inscriptions at Great Salkeld when this one ‘jumped out’ at me. 

Robert, son of John and Sarah Lowthian, born 11 April 1840, died 1 Aug 1846. Margaret their daughter who met with an accident on the 7th and died 9th July 1868, aged 34 years. The above John died 29 June 1876, aged 68 years. Sarah his wife d 19 July 1878 aged 78 years. John their son died at Morpeth 8 Feb 1892, aged 47 years.

And there is a lengthy verse: ‘I lost the child I held so dear….’

Margaret Lowthian

Two Cumbrian newspapers carry details of Margaret’s accident. Though the Penrith Observer calls her Ann, despite carrying the (correct) death notice in the same column. No ‘stone subs**’ in 1868, perhaps?!

Margaret was the housekeeper for C R Saunders, of Nunwick Hall***. She made the tragic mistake of trying to get down from a cart (laden with corn) before it had stopped. She fell, the cart ran over, and she died of her injuries two days later.

Ancestry suggested records

So what has this to do with Ancestry suggested records? Well, I thought I’d find out a little more about the Lowthian family.

  • 1841 Great Salkeld
  • John Lowthian, 30, joiner
  • Sarah 35
  • Margaret 7
  • Sarah 3
  • Robert 1.

Robert died in 1846. 1851 shows that Margaret was born, not surprisingly, at Great Salkeld. Daughter Sarah is Sarah Ann. And son John has arrived, and is six years old. The family are doing well, as with them are an apprentice (to John senior), and a farm servant.

Ancestry suggested records give an option for Margaret for 1861, which works. She is a house servant to a family called Smith, at Eden Lacy, Great Salkeld.

However. Ancestry also offers an 1891 suggestion for Margaret. This woman is the right age, but of course can’t be ‘the’ Margaret Lowthian, as she died in 1868. Ancestry suggestions do, in fairness, show the death entry as another option. And the 1891 Margaret’s place of birth (Scilly Isles) should be enough to put anyone off linking that to their tree.

Ancestry suggested records for John Lowthian senior include a vicar and a Cambridge University scholar!

Ancestry suggested records for Sarah Ann

1861 Great Salkeld

John is now a farmer of 27 acres. With him are Sarah, daughter Sarah Ann, son John, and two boarders. One is George Pattinson, aged 15, scholar (ie still at school), b Sleggyford, Northumberland. The other is Thomas Pattinson, 27, school master, born same location.

‘Select marriages’ show Sarah Ann Lowthian married Thomas Pattinson at Great Salkeld, on July 27, 1861.

Yet Ancestry’s ‘suggested records’, on the right (see main image), are all ‘Sarah Ann Alcock’. Including 1871.

Sarah Ann Alcock was then the wife of a grocer John Allcock, with three children. Her place of birth: Penrith. It’s Penrith on 1881-1911 inclusive as well.

FreeBMD doesn’t have an Al(l)cock/Pattinson marriage in the 1860s. Nor does it have an Al(l)cock/Lowthian marriage.

And if you dig around, 1871 shows Sarah, born Great Salkeld, is living with husband Thomas Pattinson (schoolmaster) in his native Northumberland.

So why the A(l)cock suggestions?

Thomas Pattinson

If you follow the Ancestry suggested records for Thomas Pattinson, it pulls up… Thomas Pattinson who was born about 1839 in Bowness-on-Solway. He died in 1895, at Kirkland House, just outside Port Carlisle. He was never a school master, never boarded at Great Salkeld, and had zero connection with Northumberland. 

Some advice for all family historians

1. Sources, sources, sources

I’ve seen plenty of family trees on Ancestry that look to have relied on either: Ancestry suggested records; Ancestry hints, or; other people’s family trees for information that is just plain wrong.

If you want your family tree to be right, you should really never add any information unless you have verified it by at least two sources (eg parish registers and census, or census and a birth certificate, or a Free BMD entry and a will).

When putting together a tree with distant (in both senses) relations, our ‘standard of proof’ is actually THREE sources that work. 

Given the wealth of sources available on Ancestry, it’s not hard to find second sources.

2. Common sense

Read the suggested records/hints/other people’s trees carefully before you add anything to your own tree.

Does anything jar? Is the place of birth wildly different? If so, check various sources again – is it just a census enumerator’s error, for instance?

This may sound obvious. But it sometimes feels like my ‘mission’ in life to add comments to people’s family trees. With notes such as: ‘They didn’t marry till 1820, so no, they didn’t have a son in 1810’. And: ‘1901 attached here shows a joiner, born 1866-67, in Abbey Holme – not your coal miner born in Lancashire in 1872.


* This blog isn’t affiliated, full stop. It gets no revenue from anyone. Other genealogy sites are available!

**a stone sub was a newspaper sub-editor who checked completed pages before they were sent to print. 

*** That is Nunwick Hall, Great Salkeld. Charles Richardson Saunders, of Nunwick Hall, donated the treble bell to Great Salkeld Church. He took over the Hall following the death of Randle Wilkinson Saunders. 

Randle Wilkinson Saunders’ name appears to originally have been Randle Wilkinson Richardson.

Charles Richardson Saunders’ father was William Wilkinson Saunders.

There is a story there there somewhere!