Ancestry.com is hand-down the largest genealogy website. But how can you get started using a site that’s so big? Learn how to make the most of the site’s records database with these three great Ancestry.com genealogy search strategies.
1. Formulate a search strategy
Ancestry.com has a powerful search engine for its database of genealogy records, but you have to take a strategic approach. Typing your ancestor’s name, birthday and location is a start, but it won’t magically turn up records relevant to your family history. While you can cast a wide net by keeping the research parameters broad, or steadily narrow them down to exact spellings and dates, the system is imperfect and may not pull up records that have misspellings or transcription errors.
Try searching a few different spellings of your ancestor’s names, try both married and maiden names, and use wild cards such as asterisks and question marks in your searches.
2. Search the catalog
The best reason to search the Ancestry.com catalog is to get a feel for the types of collections available. You can also see records that have been recently added or updated, plus get a feel for the sheer scope of what’s already in the online database. Within the catalog, you filter your search by collection type, region, dates, and language. You can also narrow your results by doing a keyword search.
Another great reason to search the Ancestry.com catalog: to know the types of records. This can inspire new leads in your research, plus inspiration for you when your genealogy research stagnates. You may find records that don’t come up using the search engine, or end up buried several pages back in the results.
3. Learn what the records tell you:
It’s not enough to learn about the collections; you’ll want to learn what the records within each collection can tell you about your ancestors. For example, the largest group of US records in the Wills, Probates, Land, Tax and Criminal Records collections are the court, governmental and criminal records. Court records can include everything from wills and probate records to criminal lists and divorce records. Records vary from state to state, so read the description to learn what details you can expect to find—and what you can’t.
Take the California Prison and Correctional Records, 1851-1950 collection. Here you can find names, crimes, conviction dates, prison numbers, discharge dates, physical descriptions, and several other details useful to your research.
These three steps will help you scratch the surface to get deeper into the collections on Ancestry.com. Learn how to maximize your Ancestry.com experience with our weeklong workshop. You can also learn all about using Ancestry.com in our detailed Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com. This comprehensive book, newly expanded and updated, will show you how to incorporate Ancestry.com’s Card Catalog in your research. Inside, you’ll also learn how to take advantage of Ancestry.com’s search forms so you can easily find your ancestors’ records.