I Wrote 2 Books About Ancestry.com

Here’s What I Learned

You Probably Didn’t Know That You Didn’t Know

When I wrote the Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com and the Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook, I had no idea how much I could learn about Ancestry once I started digging below the surface. These were my top 5 take-aways.

1. Ancestry.com’s on-board search engine is pretty damned smart.

Once you’ve completed your first search and found (hopefully) an ancestor of interest, Ancestry goes one step further and pulls up a list of suggested resources. These are the records that it thinks contain even more information about the individual.

And guess what? Their suggestions are almost always right.

What does this mean for your search? More bang for your bucks because while you were searching for one thing, Ancestry was way ahead of you — searching for stuff you didn’t even know you didn’t know.

2. Ancestry does not excel in all things.

Interested in digitized books? You can find them in the Card Catalog under the broad category: Stories, Memories & Histories. If you want to know more about an ancestor’s everyday life, these are the books to read.

That said, Ancestry.com doesn’t come close to competing with the historical book collection over at Google Books.

And if you haven’t use Google Books, I made a quick video on getting the most out of it for genealogy. It’s free for anyone on my newsletter list.

3. If you can’t find what you’re looking for today, check back in a month and every month thereafter.

Ancestry.com is always adding new databases. What wasn’t there today could be there tomorrow morning.

If you check the Recently Added and Updated page (found on the home page), you’ll find a list of databases that were recently updated. Check it out when you log in.

Then keep checking back.

4. Unless you know zip about an ancestor, don’t use the general search form.

The general search form (the one that comes up if you click the Search button at the top of the page) is useful if you know absolutely nothing about an ancestor. If that’s the case, use it to throw a wide net and see what you can catch.

Otherwise, use the Card Catalog (you’ll find it in the links under Search). The Card Catalog isn’t for finding ancestors; it’s for finding the collections that are most likely to contain your ancestors.

You can filter the Card Catalog by place, dates, names, record types, etc., to find the databases most relevant to your search. Now instead of wasting your time slogging through thousands of irrelevant hits, you can zero in on only the most promising collections. Trust me on this one.

5. Ancestry.com’s collection of U.S. School Yearbooks is a treasure.

With more than 372 million records, the collection spans the years 1880–2012. If your ancestor or relative lived in 20th century America, go directly to this collection

Searching the Yearbooks, I found amazing photos of my dad and my aunts in their high school yearbooks. Better yet, the yearbooks gave information about family members that I didn’t know. For example, it turns out Dad was a horseshoe champion. Who’s a thunk-it?

So Get Out There and Search!

If you‘ve got an Ancestry.com subscription, use what I learned to be a more successful searcher. You’ve got access to billions of records — so start digging!

The original version of this article first appeared on AncestorNews.com

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Nancy Hendrickson is the author of the Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com and the Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook. She is a contributing editor at Family Tree Magazine, and an instructor at Family Tree University. Get her free 10-step guide on saving your family stories.