Whether you’re a novice genealogist or a seasoned pro, chances are you use Ancestry.com in your research. You’ve learned your way around the site, made discoveries about your family history, and built a family tree. But are you a Power User? Find out by seeing how many of these pro tips you know!
1. You shouldn’t take others’ trees at face value
Don’t assume that another person’s online tree is accurate or that it matches your ancestors. Ancestry.com’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.
Always 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.
2. Your ethnicity estimates can change
There’s a reason they use the word “estimates” to describe what your ethnic makeup is. As more people test, they’re able to refine the information. Ethnicity is based on a sample group of people whose ancestors came from the same area. The science behind this aspect of testing is continually evolving, so they continue to tweak your results as the sample size grows. Learn more about AncestryDNA in lesson 3 of the course.
3. You can search 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.
4. Domestic records will appear first
Ancestry.com prioritizes domestic records in their search results. For this reason, a search on the Card Catalog might be more helpful in finding the international collection you need. Remember that you can search on the record type (census or birth for example), then narrow the search by a country (Mexico, Germany, Wales, etc.).
5. You can opt out of matches
While Ancestry.com considers the ability to find possible DNA matches to be one of their most beneficial services, they respect the critical importance of privacy and the ability for members to control their own data. While many of their 6 million members love having discovering possible DNA matches and family members, this ability makes controlling your own data incredibly simple. By accessing your DNA Settings page and adjusting your DNA Match List setting to ‘no’, you can ensure that no one will see you in their list of possible matches. If existing members wish to continue seeing their matches, and continue having their information shared on match lists, you need to make no changes, as the automatic setting on your account will be ‘yes’.
6. Refining your search results can make all the difference
After you’ve looked through a few search results, you might want to try a name variant, broaden the birth year range or make another adjustment. You can do this without returning to the search form by using the slider and filter tools at the top left of your page.
7. You can narrow your search to specific collections
The last section of the Ancestry.com search form lets you target your search more precisely by narrowing results to certain collections. As Ancestry.com increases its international content, this is a handy way to view only records related to your ancestors’ places. A dropdown menu lets you select a particular place or an ethnicity (black, Jewish or Native American—groups for which records often cross national boundaries). This is an excellent option if you know where a person lived.
8. You can review your search results faster
Once you’ve got some search hits on Ancestry.com you can save time by not clicking through to review every possible result:
On your Ancestry.com results list, hover your pointer over the blue, underlined collection title (such as “1940 United States Federal Census”). A window pops up showing key data from that record, so you can decide whether to investigate further.
9. You can easily see what new records have been added
Ancestry.com adds new records each day. It’s good to repeat searches to find recently added records, but annoying to slog through the same matches you’ve already seen. You can view recently added records here, and click a title to search just that database. (Note the dropdown menu set to United States; use it to view new content for other countries.)
10. The message boards are full of rich resources
An often-overlooked resource is Ancestry.com’s vast array of message boards. This part of the site, “the world’s largest online genealogy community,” has more than 17 million posts on 161,000 boards. This link is located under Collaborate, or you can go straight to boards.ancestry.com. Why tackle a genealogy challenge from scratch when somebody may have already solved it here?
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.
11. You can narrow down your search too much
While having thousands of results can be overwhelming to sort through, you won’t get enough results if you filter too much. After all, you never know when Davies is going to show up Davis, and birth dates can vary pretty widely on records if people are lying or guessing someone else’s age. Learn more about searching from this list of Ancestry.com Dos and Don’ts.
If you knew all of these Ancestry.com tidbits, you’re probably a Power User! If you’re looking to expand your knowledge even further, check out our Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com, 2nd Edition.