Search Dos and Don’ts Search Dos and Don’ts

Use these search dos and don'ts to build your skills and master searching on is a powerhouse for your genealogy searches, but it’s more than just a database. Take advantage of our search dos and don’ts below to improve your results.

Then, become an power user by signing up for our 4-week course, where you’ll learn all about setting up and navigating online trees, plenty more search tips and tricks, and how to incorporate AncestryDNA into your strategy. You’ll also learn all about’s problem-solving tools and a variety of other resources from this genealogy powerhouse.

Do Search Strategically

While there is something to be said for typing in a name to see what comes up, it pays to take advantage of’s advanced search tools (Show More Options). Use what you know or suspect about your ancestors to narrow your search results. At the very least, add a date or location if you know it.

Don’t overuse those filters, though. You can narrow down your search too much – for example, by not allowing for variations in spelling or choosing a small range of dates.

Do Search by Category

Start with a wider search, then narrow your results by category. makes this easy by providing a list of record types on the search results page. You can filter your results down based on what records you’re looking for. For example, to make sure you’ve found all the census records on your checklist, start by choosing the “Census & Voter Lists” category. Then, search by the date you are still looking for.

Do Search the Card Catalog

This list of search dos and don’ts would not be complete without mentioning the Card Catalog. Not all of your searches have to start with a name and date. Look for a specific record collection to see if it is in’s database.

Don’t rely on all record collections to show up in the first page of your search results. By searching for a record collection in the Card Catalog, you can discover hidden records and learn more about the collections themselves.

Search Dos and Don'ts on’s Card Catalog is way easier to search.

Don’t Take Others’ Trees at Face Value

Don’t assume that another person’s online tree is accurate or that it matches your ancestors.’s online trees is a fantastic way to connect with other people and find new information, but those same people are human – and thus, errors can get introduced into their trees.

Do your own research and check their work before you accept those hints from other people’s trees. That way, you’ll catch any errors and your family tree will be right.

Do Search with Wildcards

Wildcards replace letters in a name to help you find misspelled, mis-transcribed or otherwise errant spellings of the names you’re searching for. Using an asterisk (*) will replace any number of characters in a name. A question mark (?) will replace one character. This provides flexibility when you believe a record may have been misspelled or mis-transcribed.

Don’t Give Up

Even if a record doesn’t show up in your initial search, it’s possible the record exists – but either isn’t online or isn’t indexed yet. Knowing what record collections exist and if they’re digitized yet will help you prioritize your searches.

Become an power user by signing up for our 4-week course.

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  1. Hi,
    I was so looking forward to seeing my parents’ names and MY OWN in the 1940 Census. I was born in August of 1939, so it is logical that this information should be there. However, a diligent search, first of our names and then those of both sets of grand parents produced no results. I know we could look up all known relatives but the families are large and from multiple states. We searched for the surname with various spellings, various unusual given names, using bd, md, etc. Unfortunately, I am told there will be no hard copies. Any suggestions(other than browsing the entire states of IN, OH and MI) would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  2. Hello,
    I want you to know that every time I attempt to print one of the freebies that you offer the type is so small I throw it away in anger. I can’t seem to control the print size on my end. Can you please tell my why I am unable to print the documents etc the size they are on the screen?

    Thank you
    Taylor Worthington-Gilchrist

  3. I am having difficulty finding where to post comments on some of the programs I have purchased such as Stellar Surname Search Strategies. I want to post responses, but it does not appear to be easy to find the area to post responses.

    Taylor Worthington-Gilchrist