Where’s an overwhelmed genealogist to start?
To help jump-start your Ancestry.com experience, here are 10 suggestions for tasks you can perform on the site (not all of which even require paying for a subscription). As you work your way through these ideas, you’ll uncover even more ways Ancestry.com can help you branch out and document your family tree.
1. Explore what’s available for free.
Many of these databases, it’s true, require a subscription to view full results or the scanned image of the original record. That’s the case with most US census databases, although you can view the 1880 and 1940 enumerations in their entirety for free; you just need to register and create a free account. Yet even those “free” databases in which the complete records are hidden behind a pay wall can provide valuable information. Searching the 1861 English census, for example, will reveal not only whether an ancestor is listed, but also the person’s year and city of birth as well as county of residence in 1861.
2. Create or upload your family tree.
To begin, select Start a New Tree under the Family Trees link on the home page; you’ll see a rudimentary pedigree chart where you can type in your data. Another option under Family Trees, Upload a GEDCOM, lets you share a GEDCOM file (the universal file format for family trees) you’ve exported from your genealogy software. Or from the same page, you can upload native file formats created by several genealogy programs: Family Tree Maker (FTW); Family Tree Maker backup file (FBK); Personal Ancestral File (PAF); and Legacy (FDB). You can also upload “zipped” GEDCOM and image files (GEDZ). Just browse to the file on your computer, select and upload it, and Ancestry.com will interpret the file and create your online tree.
3. Follow your hints.
To explore these hints, hover over one of your ancestors bearing a leaf icon. You’ll see how many hints are available to review (“8 Ancestry hints”). Click this link for a list of the data matches Ancestry.com has identified. You can click on each data source to view that record, or select Review Hint to jump to a comparison between what Ancestry.com has found and what’s in your tree. (If the data obviously doesn’t apply to your ancestor, select Ignore Hint to dismiss it.) Check or uncheck these found facts, then pick Save to Your Tree to import the info you’ve checked.
4. Perform a global search.
This advanced-search page also offers the option to search just for exact matches. Use this checkbox with caution, however; you can always choose to narrow your search once you see the results, using the Edit Search button or r hot key.
5. Search by category.
Another reason to search by category is that these category-search pages present different options. The Immigration & Travel search page, for example, lets you specify an ancestor’s arrival and departure dates and place of origin—options not readily available on the main search page. (You can, however, add arrival and departure there as life events.) The Military search page has a date and location search box set specifically for military service.
6. Explore others’ family trees.
You can also search just for Public Member Stories submitted along with family trees here.
7. Connect with cousins.
Under Collaborate/Recent Member Connect Activity, you can view other Ancestry.com subscribers’ activities related to ancestors you may share. If someone’s saved a record related to an ancestor in one of your trees, that’ll show up—along with links to the record and the person’s tree.
8. Find ancestors in the news.
Here it’s often useful to filter your search by location, using the links at the upper right. Click on USA, for instance, and then select a state and possibly a city in the left-hand links on the page that appears. You also can filter by dates.
9. Scour message boards.
At the very least, it’s worth checking the boards for all the surnames you’re researching, as well as the ancestral places (typically by county) where your family has lived. You can also explore specialized boards devoted to everything from the Crimean War to Australian cemeteries. If you post, use a subject line such as “Harrison family in Ripley County, Ind.” That way, other researchers surfing the boards will quickly know whether your most might pertain to their families..
10. Save your finds.
It’s also easy to save your finds digitally. When viewing a record, click the orange Save button in the upper right corner. This brings up a box where you can choose to attach the record to someone in your tree, store it in your Ancestry.com “shoebox” or save it to your computer’s hard drive. (To return later to “shoebox” items, see the list of recent additions and the link to all items at the bottom of your Ancestry.com home page.) An advantage of attaching a record to an Ancestry.com tree is that you can then view it using Ancestry’s free smartphone and tablet apps.
All these options are easy to use, and that’s a good thing. Once you’ve tried all 10 suggestions for using Ancestry.com for your search, you’ll have plenty of family history finds to save.
Bonus: Errors on Ancestry.com–Why They Happen & How to Correct Them
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