Please note this article contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission.
(No Ancestry subscription? Don’t worry most of these tips will work for other genealogy subscription sites too. So, if you love Find My Past, The Genealogist or My Heritage then this article is still worth a read)
The cost of genealogy data sites (like an Ancestry subscription) can soon add up. So it can be pretty frustrating when our searches don’t yield the results we were hoping for. Everyone likes to get more ‘bang for their buck’. So let’s milk Ancestry and co for everything they’ve got! Because, believe me, there’s lots to discover beneath the ‘search all’ surface.
1. Choose From The Menu
Ever visited an expensive restaurant and failed to look at the menu? No, I didn’t think so. And yet that’s what you’re doing every time you perform a ‘search all’.
All data subscription sites, like Ancestry, have some sort of A to Z of records. A full list of everything available within the website. In Ancestry’s case, it’s called the ‘Card Catalogue’. Access it via the search menu.
If you are performing a ‘search all’ and not seeing a record you’d expect to find – then double-check the Card Catalogue. There have been instances in the past where a generic search did not include certain records. For example, searching WWI military records would not show results from the Silver War Badge collection. But, you can access the Silver War Badge Records via the Card Catalogue.
Of course, sometimes you don’t know what exactly you are hoping to find within the catalogue. That’s OK. You can browse it by subject. Get to know the records and their history. It’ll help you perform more targeted searches.
2. Search For Hidden Gems
Whilst browsing the Card Catalogue keep your eyes peeled for Ancestry’s other gems. The un-transcribed records. Included in your Ancestry subscription, but rarely shouted about. These records can sometimes be tricky to spot.
For example, the record set “London, England, Poor Law & Board of Guardian Records, 1738-1926” is not indexed. If you navigate to the record set you’ll notice that the usual search boxes are visible. This is a red herring. Instead, locate the ‘browse’ section on the right-hand side of the page. From here you can select your borough, parish and record type of interest. Tada! Now you can view the original documents.
OK, I admit that reading through the various original images is time-consuming. But the results can be amazing!
Like the below settlement relief entry for my great-great-grandmother Bertha Webster. She arrived at the workhouse aged 25. Single and pregnant. The record details all her previous addresses. Including a mysterious stint in France for 3 years. There are also details about her father. It’s a genealogy jackpot as far as I’m concerned! Well worth the hours and hours I spent trawling through the records.
3. There Are Books
Ancestry’s un-transcribed collection boasts a host of books. Select the card catalogue, search for a place name (e.g. Dorset) and filter results by selecting “stories, memories and histories”.
There are 100s of books from a wide range of time periods. Some a really obscure, e.g. “The Blizzard in the West – 1891”. This is an historical account of a “disastrous storm”. It features real accounts of a hurricane that affected the south-west of England. An ideal read for anyone who had ancestors living in the area at the time.
Don’t leave the Card Catalogue yet. There’s more to discover. This time search by place and then select ‘pictures’. Here you’ll find a collection of image-based records. Photos of people and places. I particularly like the Armistice photos within the “UK, Historical Photographs and Prints, 1704-1989” data set.
5. Set Cousin Bait with Comments
When you view a source on Ancestry there is a menu option on the right-hand side that allows you to view the records ‘details’, ‘related’ items and ‘source’. Underneath this is a comment box. Adding comments to sources is an excellent way of setting some cousin bait. Your user name and comments will be visible to anyone viewing the record in the future. They can click on your user name and send you a message. It’s a great way of connecting with those with the same or similar research interests.
Even if you don’t comment yourself, make sure you save records of interest to your tree and/or shoebox. Doing so means that, whenever someone else comments on the record, you’ll see a note on your Ancestry homepage.
This method also works if you are making corrections. Any corrections you make to a record are visible to others – and visa versa.
6. Make A Public Tree
Now, this is a controversial topic. Some people, myself included, have had bad experiences with public trees. Like discovering that some <insert rude word here> has taken your tree and made your English granny the parent of a child born in Outer Mongolia 10 years after she died. Let’s just say, it’s frustrating. So too is having your research copied without any note of source acknowledgement.
BUT, if these things irk you, don’t dismay! You can still have a public tree.
Use a skeleton tree. Just names, birth and death dates. With sources. Direct line only. Give the tree an enticing name, like “Get In Touch I Have More Research”
Why? Two reasons. One, because hopefully some cousins will see your tree and be able to work out roughly how they are connected to you. Your lovely tree title will encourage them to get in touch. Then, if you decide you want to, you can share more.
Two. Because now your DNA matches can assess your tree to see how you may be related. You’re not giving too much away, but it makes contacting your DNA matches easier. You’ve got something to point them too. “Take a look at my tree, I think we are connected via X…”.
7. Try Advanced Filtering
Avoid searching for a needle in a haystack. Otherwise known as looking for a William Davies in Wales.
Now, I will forgive you for thinking that I’m about to recommend putting a year and/or place of birth into your search criteria. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean, you can do that, but there are often valid reasons for not doing it! Like having a wide birth year range or a place of birth that’s vague or huge (born in Ireland is a classic).
No, I’m advocating for cohabiting searches. Finding good old William Davies is much easier if you can search for him with his wife and kids. For generations our ancestors seemed to have a total lack of imagination when it came to names. Heck, there’s even popular naming patterns just to ensure that William never goes out of fashion!
Searching for family groups is a way of narrowing down your results. Finding a William or a Elizabeth is hard. Finding two living together (with right age, place of birth, address) is a little easier. Finding them with their children John, Mary, Edward, Ann helps to narrow the possibilities further.
Ancestry allows you to search for an individual, plus multiple other individuals – including: parents, siblings, spouses and/or children. Utilise this great function to find your “William Davies”!
If you don’t currently have an Ancestry subscription and are thinking of giving it a whirl then using the link below to sign up may earn me a small commission.