Ancestry Search

The Ancestry search function is the most powerful tool available for helping you find new information about your ancestors. On this page, I'll show you how it works, and I'l teach you some of the strategies I use to really make the most of it.

Ancestry Search for Beginners | Advanced Search


For Beginners: Using the Ancestry Search Function

The information from this section was adapted from a similar Ancestry search tutorial on my ward family history web page. Those who would like to see this information presented in a more LDS faith-based way and read about some of the personal experiences I had while I was doing the research on Emma Catherine "Katie" Anthony and her loved ones are welcome to read the original tutorial.

Previous tutorial: Ancestry Hints

First, let's log in and find an ancestor we want to know more about.

For this tutorial, I remember that Emma Katie Anthony, Monroe Kline's wife, didn't have many hints for us to use, and we went through them pretty quickly. This means she's a good candidate for manual Ancestry search.

I'm going to enter her profile.

Notice the 'SEARCH' button in the upper right. This button enters the Ancestry search function and pre-loads it with all the information we currently have on Emma. Go ahead and click 'SEARCH'.

Notice the search parameters and controls on the top left.

The sliders allow you to cast a wider or narrower net. For example, If you leave the name slider at 'Broad' you could get not only Emma, but also 'Ema', 'Emmaline', 'Emily'. In addition to Katie you might also get 'Kathrine', 'Kathryn', 'Katrina' and so on. If you slide to 'Exact', then the computer will only accept records that reflect this exact spelling. The same idea applies to the other search criteria.

Now, while I was writing the death certificate tutorial, I happened to notice that Emma's husband has a middle initial 'P' and they were married in 1891 in Coplay, Pennsylvania. I'm going to click 'Edit Search' at the bottom of the control panel and see if I can figure out how to enter that information. This will help narrow the record set and improve the likelihood of getting useful records.

Orange circles show where I was able to add my information. Now I click 'SEARCH'.

Now, since I've seen other records where Emma's middle initial was recorded as 'C', I'm going to entertain the possibility that the marriage record circled in blue is one I can use. If I hover my cursor over the link, I get this pop-up:

I see her name – Emma Anthony, her husband's name – Monroe P. Kline –  and I see the marriage year is right – 1891. This is a record we want to add, so I click into it. Now, just because I'm a sap and I like to see Emma's handwriting filling out her marriage application – or at the very least her neighborhood preacher's handwriting, I go ahead and 'VIEW' the record. Remember, I'm also looking for any information Ancestry might not automatically include for me.

I just think it's neat to see first-hand the proof that these dear friends of mine really lived, that they really were married, that they left this for me to find. Since this preacher would have known them personally, and they would have wanted to take care in getting their names right on this record, I suspect that the 'C' I've been seeing in "Emma Katie's" name is actually correct. Let's save this record.

Notice I've edited her name to say 'Emma C “Katie” Anthony'. This documents the 'C' middle initial. The double quotes are a family history convention used to express a nickname. I also checked the box next to the marriage date as shown in the marriage record. This causes the better information to be saved into my tree.

From now on, when I do a manual search on Emma, the “C” and the “Katie” will both be used, casting a wider net for records that will hopefully substantiate it – or possibly disprove it.

I scroll down to look at Monroe.

I checked the box next to his name to save the middle initial “P” into my tree. Now I click 'SAVE TO YOUR TREE'. I've just saved a record that resulted from a manual search into my tree for Emma.

I still don't have death information for her, so let's get a little creative with the Ancestry search function and see what we can come up with. I happen to notice the last of her children was born in the early 1900's so I set her death date at 1915 +/-5 years which effectively means I'm guessing that she died in the 1910s. No luck. I try 1925 +/-... no luck. Then I try 1935 and hit pay dirt.

Notice the birth date matches the 1866 birth year we got from census records. Also, if I hover over the record, I can see it showing her maiden name as Anthony. Score! I click into it and save it, making mental note of anything else useful I find.

Not only did this give me her exact birth date, I also now have her death date, and we've just met her Mom and Dad, Mr. and Mrs. David Anthony and Susanna Remaley.  Incidentally, the exact death date caused Ancestry to give me another hint: a Find-A-Grave record that contained, among other things the names of her two daughters: Mabel and Amy. 

I now have:

  1. multiple records for Emma
  2. Emma's exact birth and death dates
  3. proof of her relationships to her husband, parents and children

If you would like to really increase your ability to find your ancestors, you'll want to learn even more about Ancestry's advanced search features. In this genealogy video collection produced by Ancestry, they give you an in-depth presentation on how their search function works as well as many insights on how to use the powerful search features to accelerate your efforts.


Advanced Search

If you're already an experienced user, this section will provide you with additional help to put your searching skills over the top.


Narrowing Your Results

Are you getting a huge set of results? Maybe you're working with a really common name, or you don't have enough information to do a narrower search. There is a way to get a more manageable, smaller result set to work with. 

Let's take a closer look at what you know about your ancestor. Do you know what state they lived in? Do you know what census years they are likely to appear in? Instead of searching everything in the entire Ancestry collection, it is possible to search an individual Ancestry database.


State-Specific Ancestry Search

Let's say your ancestor lived in Kentucky. Start by clicking on the main "Search" link at the top of the screen.

Click on "All Collections".

Scroll down to the map of the United States and click on "Kentucky" either on the map or in the list of state links.

Now you have a list of state-specific databases to search.

Do you want to look at Kentucky marriages? Kentucky state censuses? Kentucky military records? If your ancestor died in the latter half of the 1800's, you would want to look at "Kentucky Death Records, 1852-1965". 

These state-specific resources give you a way to search without getting millions of broad, useless results. You can focus more on exactly what you're looking for.


Census-Specific Ancestry Search

Suppose you have an ancestor for whom you are getting lots of results, but you still haven't been able to find her in her childhood household with her parents.

Let's say you know she was a child still living at home in the 1880 census in Scottsburg, Indiana. Click the same "Search" link at the top of the screen. This time, when you get the pop-up, click "Census and Voter Lists". 

Genealogy's Star: Step-by-Step Guide to Using Online Census Indices

Click on "U.S. Federal Census Collection", then scroll to the bottom where you can see the "included data collections".

Click on the 1880 Census.

Now we get 90 results instead of hundreds of thousands.

You can experiment with moving the sliders to zero in on 1872 and scottsburg. You'll notice it's misspelled in the census record, which makes "Scottsburg" drop out of the results if you set it to "Exact"--something to bear in mind when you run a search. We don't want to  forget to account for the possibility of misspellings.

I didn't have the last name exactly right, so I ended up removing it. Once I did, I could zero in on 1872 and Scottsburg. 

Now our search gives us a much more workable result set!

Ancestry Search for Beginners | Advanced Search