- Subscribers: 2.1 million on Ancestry.com branded sites; 2.7 million across all websites
- Databases: more than 31,000 on Ancestry.com
- Data: 10 petabytes
- Records: 12 billion on Ancestry.com; an average of 2 million added per day
- Searches: more than 40 million per day
- Ancestry.com mobile App downloads: more than 10 million since January 2011
- Ancestry DNA database: 200,000-plus samples
- Ancestry.com (US; includes some collections from other countries): launched in 1996
- Ancestry.ca (Canada): launched in 2006
- Ancestry.co.uk (UK): launched in 2002
- Ancestry.com.au (Australia): launched in 2006
- Ancestry.de (Germany): launched in 2006
- Ancestry.it (Italy): launched in 2007
- Ancestry.fr (France): launched in 2007
- Ancestry.se (Sweden): launched in 2007
- 1000memories: acquired in 2012
- AncestryDNA: launched in 2007
- Archives.com: acquired in 2012
- Family Tree Maker software: acquired in 2003
- Find-a-grave: acquired in 2013
- Fold3.com: acquired in 2010 (originally Footnote)
- Genealogy.com: acquired in 2003
- Genline: acquired in 2010
- Mundia: launched in 2009
- MyCanvas publishing (renamed from Ancestry Press in 2008)
- MyFamily.com: launched in 1998
- Newspapers.com: launched in 2012
- ProGenealogists research firm: acquired in 2010
- RootsWeb.com: acquired in 2000
Major Content Collections
- US censuses: 1790 through 1940 federal censuses; select nonpopulation censuses; various colonial, territorial and state censuses; American Indian census rolls
- Canadian censuses: 1861-1911; plus 1851, 1906 and 1916 provincial censuses
- UK censuses: 1841-1911
- US vital records: birth, marriage and death indexes or record images for various years, cities and states; Social Security Death Index; newspaper birth, marriage and death announcements
- FamilySearch Records: birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial information from 67 countries
- English birth and marriage indexes: 1916-2005
- Ireland civil registration indexes
- Immigration: passenger lists for US ports, border-crossing records with Canada and Mexico, Passenger & Immigration Lists Index, various naturalization record indexes and/or record images, US passport applications
- Military: Revolutionary War muster rolls; Revolutionary War and War of 1812 bounty land warrants; Civil War, WWI and WWII draft registrations; Civil War pension index; US Colored Troops records; US Army Register of Enlistments; Marine Corps muster rolls
- Newspapers: various publications from the US and abroad, obituaries
- Family and local history books
- City Directories: major US cities and some smaller cities
- California Great Register of Voters
- High school and college yearbooks
- Swedish church records
- Family Trees: members’ trees with more than 4 billion profiles and 160 million attached images and stories
- US Public Records Index: index to various public records spanning 1950 to 1993
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|all of the above, plus access to Fold3.com, Archives.com and Newspapers.com|
When you search for records on Ancestry.com (or another genealogy website), you’re actually searching a textual index—names, dates and other data transcribed by people who looked at the original records. Indexes for some records, such as city directories, newspapers and books, were created by optical character recognition (OCR) software that “read” the records. This means searching for records can be a guessing game of how information about your ancestor appears in the index. Several factors may complicate your search:
- The person who provided the information when the original record was created may have given a name, date or other detail that’s different from what you’re expecting to find. Our ancestors often were inconsistent about their dates of birth, marriage and immigration, and about the spelling of their names. Or someone not close to your ancestral family, such as a neighbor, may have answered a census taker’s questions about your clan.
- The creator of the record, such as the census taker or a court clerk, may have made a mistake when recording the information.
- The indexer who transcribed the record may have incorrectly interpreted it or made a typo when entering the information into a searchable database.
- For records that are indexed by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, such as newspapers and city directories, ink spots and other printing problems may have caused the software to “misread” the text.
Ancestry.com attempts to compensate for these potential complications with its search options and the algorithm used to find matching records. The search looks at all the search terms and filters you used, and ranks its records according to how well the indexed information matches what you entered.
A basic search performed from Ancestry.com’s home page may work if the person you’re researching had an unusual name, but it’s more likely that this approach will result in an overwhelming number of hits for other
individuals with the same or a similar name. You can best control your search matches and ranking by using the Advanced Search form (shown below)—click Show Advanced on the home page.
1. Enter a first and middle name, if you know it. Click “Use default settings” to see options for restricting your search to:
- the exact name you typed
- the exact name plus phonetic matches (names that sound similar)
- the exact name plus names with similar meanings or spellings (such as William and Will)
- the exact name plus records with initials only
- all of the above
The first name default setting finds records with all of the above, plus records for which the name is not a strong match, but other criteria are.
2. Click for options to restrict your surname search to:
- the exact last name you type
- the exact last name plus Soundex matches
- the exact last name plus phonetic matches
- the exact last name plus names with similar spellings and meanings (such as Smith and Schmidt).
- all of the above
The default settings for the Last Name field find the exact name plus phonetic matches and those with
similar spellings and meanings. Note the default settings don’t include Soundex searches.
3. Click to choose a life event for your search target—birth, death, lived in, marriage, arrival, departure or military. Choose at least a birth date or “lived in” date (a good option if you want to find records such as censuses, city directories or newspapers) to focus your search. For an immigration records search, choose arrival or departure.
4. Enter the year you think the specified event happened. Use the dropdown menu to choose a range of 0, 1, 2, 5 or 10 years before and after the year you typed. Click Exact to narrow your search to exactly the year or year range you specified. Note that designating a birth date as exact will eliminate records that don’t contain a birth date or age (such as city directories). Use “lived in” unless you’re looking for a record that contains an age or birth date. You can’t choose a date if “lived in” is the event.
5. Begin typing a location to see a “type ahead” dropdown menu of places. Choose the place for the event you specified. You can restrict your search to:
- exactly this place
- the county the place is in
- the county and adjacent counties
- the entire state
- the state and adjacent states
- the country
The default setting applies no place filter. In that case, results matching or close to the place you specified rank higher in your search results, but you’ll still get results from other places. If you don’t choose a place from the dropdown menu, you won’t see the filter options described.
6. Click to add another life event to your search. You can add as many events as you want.
7. Use the Family Member dropdown menu to add a mother, father, spouse, and/or children who should appear with your target in the record you want. You can designate each family member’s first and/or last name as exact—but beware this can eliminate records that have the names misspelled, mistranscribed or absent.
8. Adding a keyword related to your target can help the right record rank higher in your search results. For example, enter the name of a ship the person immigrated on or a military regiment. Check Exact to find only records with that keyword, but this can exclude potential matches.
9. Select a gender to help narrow your search results. Note that sometimes people were miscategorized when records were created, so you might get search results for the wrong gender if the record was a strong match on other search criteria.
10. Narrow your search by entering a term such as Black or French in the Race/Nationality field. You can
designate this as exact, but you won’t get matches for records in which the term doesn’t appear. This field doesn’t seem to work in some databases, such as the 1920 census, but you also can enter a nationality in the keyword field.
11. Choose a country or ethnicity so records from related collections rank higher in your search results. If you prioritize Jewish records and choose the phonetic last name filter, Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex coding will be applied.
12. Check boxes for the types of results you want—historical records, stories and publications, family trees or photos and maps.
Top search strategies
Narrow your focus. Rather than search all Ancestry.com’s records at once, try searching a record category (such as all census records) or a single database (such as the 1880 US Census). These search pages are customized to the information in that record. For example, the 1880 US census search form lets you enter an occupation. To search a record category, hover over the Search tab and choose from the drop-down menu. For more categories, pick Search All Records from the Search dropdown menu and select from the special collections list on the right side of that page.
Run “fuzzy” searches. Names, dates and places in old records are often inconsistent and don’t always match what you’re expecting to find. It’s common to find the same person with slightly different names and ages in different records. Broaden your search to find these “close” records. Take advantage of Advanced Search filters that let you search for sound-alike names and date ranges.
Use search wildcards. Wildcards can help you account for mistakes and spelling variants that appear in old records. Use a ? to substitute for one letter in a name, and a * to stand for zero or more letters. For example, a search for Johns?n returns records naming Johnsen and Johnson. Smel*er finds Smeltzer, Smeller, Smeltsler and others. You can use a wildcard as the first or last letter of a name, but not both: Han* and *son are okay, but not *anso*. Names must contain at least three non-wildcard characters.
- Experiment with different search terms and filters for the records you want. Keep track of searches you try so you don’t miss a promising search option or waste time repeating searches.
- Scroll down on the database search page to find coverage details. You might learn the collection doesn’t cover the time and place your ancestor lived.
- Use Exact carefully. If the death date is marked as exact, for example, your results will contain only records that have a death date—and most of your ancestor’s records were created while he was alive.
- Search for a woman with both her maiden and married names.
- Can’t find someone? Look instead for family members who might also be in the record.
- If you can’t find a specific record, try browsing. Go to the database search page and click Browse This Collection on the right. Then choose the place, time frame, first letter of the surname or other browsing option (this depends how the original records are organized). Then “page” through the records, similarly to how you’d scroll microfilm.
- Not sure if you’ve found the right record? On the record summary page, click “Save this record to my Shoebox” for later evaluation.
- When you find an ancestor’s record, look to the right of the record summary page for suggestions of other records that may name the same person. Do check these suggestions carefully, as they may be for people who aren’t actually relatives.
- Click the “Customize your home page” link at the top right of your Ancestry.com home page for options to add a to-do list, a list of quick links to pages on Ancestry.com, links to popular record collections and more. You’ll also be able to rearrange the modules on your home page by clicking and dragging them.
- Ancestry member trees aren’t independently verified, so use information from trees as clues. Don’t add it to your tree until you’ve researched to make sure it’s correct. Ancestry.com subscribers can contact tree owners with questions.
- Ancestry.com regularly adds new databases and updates existing ones, so revisit your searches periodically.
- Subscriptions auto-renew. If you don’t want to renew yours, cancel at least two days before the auto-renewal date under the MyAccount link or by calling 1-800-262-3787.
- Search the Card Catalog for the keyword free to find free content on Ancestry.com. If your library subscribes to Ancestry Library Edition, you can use its computers to access most of the databases in Ancestry.com for free.
- Click the Customize Your Home Page link at the top right of your Ancestry.com home page for options to add a to-do list, a list of quick links to pages on Ancestry.com, links to popular record collections and more. You’ll also be able to rearrange the modules on your home page by clicking and dragging them.
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