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7 Ways to Make the Most of Your Ancestry Subscription

(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 than 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

Read the menu before selecting your records

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

Your ancestry subscription comes with hidden treasures

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. Yet 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.

Settlement Relief document for Bertha Webster

3. Books

Ancestry’s ‘un-transcribed’ collection boasts a host of books. One of the best ways to find these is to filter by place of interest. Then select ‘stories, memories and histories’.

There are 100s of books from a wide range of periods. Some are very obscure – like “The Blizzard in the West – 1891”. This is a 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 affected area at the time.

4. Images

Don’t leave the Card Catalogue yet. There’s more to discover. This time filter 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

Make comments on sources to set cousin bait

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

Share a tree

Now, this is a controversial topic. Some people, myself included, have had bad experiences with public trees. Like discovering that some Dopey Dora 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. Direct line only. Why? 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…”.

I usually do this with the promise to share a Gedcom of my full offline tree. The public tree has reeled in my cousins and my private or offline tree acts as an enticement to swap data.

7. Advanced Filtering

Avoid searching for a needle in a haystack. Otherwise known as 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. It’s a way of narrowing down your results.

Ancestry allows you to search for an individual with their:
mother, father, siblings, spouses and/or children.

There’s a surprising number of different ways you can use sites like Ancestry. Make sure you are getting your money’s worth by following the above tips. Make your Ancestry subscription work for you! In case you didn’t notice, I haven’t even touched on the power of wild card searches. That’s because it’s a topic worthy of it’s own post! So watch this space or sign up to The Curious Descendants and never miss a post again.


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