Ways to Maximize Search on Ancestry.com Now

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Searching on Ancestry.com can be Trying at Times

I really think you’ll agree with me when I say:

It’s REALLY hard to get all the results you want from a family search on Ancestry.com.

Well, it turns out, you can dramatically maximize your family search on Ancestry with a few simple search tips.

In fact, these same tips helped boost my family tree to well over 5,000 members.

Tip #1: Get More Results Using a Keyword Search

Why is keyword search so important?

Ancestry has billions of records available to search, and to make that family search efficient those records are indexed.

But sometimes you don’t want to search just the index. You want to search all of the printed text in the collection.

That’s exactly what keywords are for.

That also means the family search will not be as efficient as looking through index records, but there are some things you can do to maximize those results.

  1. Go to the Card Catalog page
  1. Look in the top-left corner for the Title and Keyword(s) fields.
  2. Do you know the name of the collection you want to search?
  3. If the answer is “No”, type in terms in the Keyword(s) field that you think will be in the title – dates, places, the word “Census” are all good examples.
  4. The more terms you enter in the Keyword(s) field, the more narrow the results.
  5. What type of research are you conducting? Use terms that match up to your research that may be in the title or description of the database. For example, “Native American,” “Seminole,” or “Cherokee”.
  6. Are you trying to search Newspapers? Use a term like “Courier” or “Gazette”.

Tip #2 Search With an Exact Spelling

You can limit family search results to the exact spelling of the name by selecting the Match All Terms Exactly check box at the top of the screen.

Tip #3 Set a Collection Priority or Focus

You can search records on Ancestry® at various regional levels in 4 ways:

  1. Choose a collection focus,
  2. Perform an exact search
  3. Explore by location
  4. Use the Card Catalog.

Choosing a collection focus prioritizes records in one region over records in other regions.

From a search page, click the Collection Focus drop-down menu and select a country or ethnic group. If you don’t see Collection Focus, try clicking Show more options first.

The Collection Priority menu tells the search engine to give preference in the results to records from a particular country or ethnic group.

Tip #4 Don’t Always Restrict Your Search to Certain Record Types

The thing is, answers to brick wall problems often lie in records that are not indexed.

Probate, land, and tax records are invaluable for the answers they can provide in pre-1850 American research.

What if you can’t prove a relationship between a daughter and a father? A will could name the daughter as an heir to the father’s estate and give an estimated death date for the father in an era before death certificates were used.

Are  you trying to identify parents or potential siblings of your landowning ancestor? Check the deeds. People often conducted transactions with family members, in-laws, and close friends. Some even state the relationships between the parties directly.

No thorough genealogical search is complete without referencing these record types. In fact, the solution to your brick wall problem may be hiding in plain sight, just waiting for you to discover the right record.

By searching all collections, you can search all the record types listed on the Search tab at once. Use this option if you want to find as many records as possible for a certain person and aren’t looking for a certain record type.

Tip #5 Hang on to Your Search History

Want to save yourself a bucket load of time?

You can see your past searches at any time.

  1. From any page on Ancestry, click the Search tab and select All Collections.
  2. On the Search page, scroll down to the Recent Searches section and either click on a recent search or click See more.

Tip #6 Search for Specific Record Types

To narrow your search to certain categories (such as to birth, marriage, and death records), click the Search tab at the top of any page on Ancestry and select a category from the drop-down menu.

One way to better determine if such records have a chance of being on Ancestry is to go directly to the Card Catalog and search by the specific locale for specific record types…. such as “Birth Records” for “New York” for the period “1845-1850”.

You can read about various databases to see if they include records for the location and time frame you are interested in.

Also… Search does not handle initials well, so I usually edit the search to remove the initial.

Start with a wider search, then narrow your results by category. Ancestry.com makes this easy by providing a list of record types on the search results page.

Tip #7 Be Careful with Exact Searches

Because historical records are handwritten documents that often contain misspellings or inexact information, it’s possible to miss records using exact searches.

Bonus Tips and Tricks

Name Tricks

Use first-name filters to whittle down those matches!

You can use “phonetic matches” for names that sound-alike.

Or “similar meanings” will return nicknames.

Just be sure to go back to “default” when you have finished.

Use last-name filters such as exact search.

From, there if you need to broaden your search you can use phonetic, similar and Soundex.

Remember that people don’t always spell names correctly.

The wildcard is your friend.

Start Searching From Your Tree

When you search from your tree a lot of information gets filled in for you. This saves a lot of time and effort in the search process.

From there, you can change the search to search for more or less information based on facts you add or remove from the screen.

Other Tips for Limiting the Search

Think about what you are looking for. What would be the appropriate date range for the information you are looking for? For example, Look for parents within a ten year range after the child was born.

Try leaving off the spouse and children, and include the siblings in the search.

Search for women by their maiden name and married name.

Searching a Collection

The description at the bottom of record collections is a great research aid. It usually contains tips for how to search that collection and information about what is contained within the collection. This helps you to not waste time searching for something that is not in the collection to begin with.

Now It’s Your Turn

Now I’d like to turn it over to you.

What’s the #1 tip from this post you want to try first?

Are you going to start using keyword search? Or maybe you’re going to save your search history.

Or maybe you have a question about something you read.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

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