4 Favorite “Unofficial” Tips for Using

By Diane Haddad

Many of you use in your genealogy research, as do I. Lots of us get into a routine with the site, searching the same databases in the same way every time. Not surprisingly, the meaningful results start to dry up.

Our Unofficial Guide to book shows you the depth of the site and the range of ways to find ancestral information. Here, I’ll summarize four of my favorite ideas from author Nancy Hendrickson, who’s also presenting our Making the Most of webinar on Dec. 18:

  • Delve into the card catalog. Far, far into it. Explore the categories and subcategories of databases, and type ancestral towns and counties into the Keyword search box. You’ll find such obscure collections such as “California Narratives: The Adventures of a Forty-Niner,” “General Business Review of Highland County, Ohio” and “Burlington Court Book” (court records and historical information on Quaker, Swedish, English and Dutch settlers in West New Jersey from 1680 to about 1709).
  • Look for old photos of family and the places they lived. Try databases including US School Yearbooks, Public Member Photos and Scanned Documents, and Historical Postcards (separate databases are named for 10 countries or regions, including the US, Germany and Austria, Canada, Italy and others). Find more with a card catalog search on the keyword pictures.I’ve been on the lookout for old images of tiny Pickstown, SD, where my dad lived as a child while his dad helped build the Fort Randall Dam, and this is just one of the ones I found:

  • Add notes to records you find on You might find errors in the site’s index, where the transcriber who read the name in a historical record misinterpreted what the record said. Or the census taker or county clerk might have garbled your relative’s name on the original record. Or maybe the record shows Great-grandpa’s given name, and you know the nickname he more commonly used.On the record summary page, you can click the Leave a Comment button to leave a general comment with more information on the record. Others will be able to see your user name as the person who left a comment, potentially putting you in touch with more relatives:

Or you can add alternate information to transcriptions for many records. When you view a record, click the green Index button at the bottom to pull up a transcription of fields in the record. Click on the line you want to edit, then hover over the field you want to edit. An orange button appears; click the pencil:

You also can fill in some fields that weren’t already transcribed. Here, I added “Lodger” to the Relation to Head of Household column in my grandfather’s 1940 census listing. The alternate information becomes part of’s searchable index along with the original transcription, a help to others searching for those people.

  • Use in conjunction with other sources. In many of her examples, Nancy shows how she uses names and places found on as a springboard for searches on sites such as Google, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and Findmypast. The book also includes listings of other sites you should check for city directories, digitized books and newspapers, and other types of genealogy records.

The Making the Most of webinar on Dec. 18 will show you:

  • how to build your searches for better, faster results
  • how to zero in on the best databases for your search in the Card Catalog
  • how to use the site’s many shortcut tools to make your research more efficient and lead to additional relatives
  • and lots more

The webinar is Thursday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m. ET (6p.m. CT, 5p.m. MT, 4p.m. PT). All registrants will receive a PDF copy of the presentation slides and access to view the recorded webinar again as often as they like. Learn more and register now for Making the Most of in Family Tree Shop.