Genealogy SIG Newsletter: June 2013
What’s new on Ancestry
What’s new on Findmypast

Hints and tips for searching on Ancestry

Be aware that there are two methods of searching on Ancestry, commonly called the “old search” and the “new search”. If you are using a shared login to Ancestry you may find that the appearance changes from time to time, which may indicate that the person using it before you has changed from one search method to the other. It doesn’t matter which you use, although personally I prefer and always use the “old search” method, but I would advise you to choose one or the other and then stick to it!

To change from one search method to the other, click on SEARCH and select SEARCH ALL RECORDS. In very small print at the right hand side, under the navigation bar, you will see either “Go to new search” or “Go to old search”. If you see “Go to old search” it means you are currently using the “new search” method, and if you see “Go to new search” then you are currently using the “old search” method. Sounds complicated but it’s not!

Using wildcards in your search

There are two different wildcards you can use when searching - asterisk (*) and question mark (?)
The * matches zero or more characters, for example searching using Ann* will match names such as Ann, Anne, Annie, Annabelle etc.
The ? matches one character only. So searching using Ann? will match with names such as Anne or Anna, but not Ann, Annie or Annabelle.

How would you use these wildcards?
Take for example a surname such as Thompson. Sometimes you may find it spelt Thomson, sometimes Thompson. By using a wildcard in your search you would pick up the different variations in spelling, e.g. Thom*son would find not only Thomson and Thompson, but also variations such as Thomason and Thompston.
Another example – how many variations of Harriet have you found? Harriet, Harriett, Harriot, Harriott etc. Use a wildcard when you search, e.g. Har*t and you will pick up all the variations.

- you can use the wildcard anywhere within the word providing there are three non-wildcard characters in the word
- the first or last letter must be a non-wildcard character.
- wildcards cannot be used when doing a soundex search.

As I said, my preference is using the “old search” and rather than doing a blanket search across all the records I prefer to specify the dataset I wish to search, e.g. census records, BMD records, passenger lists etc. I also tick the box “exact matches only” which means that Ancestry will only return results which match my search criteria EXACTLY. I find with this search method it is best to enter minimal information to start with, if you get too many results and wish to narrow it down a bit then add extra search criteria to see if it helps. Don’t forget to use wildcards to get extra flexibility with the results.

The advice from Ancestry if you are using the “new search” method is to type as much as information as possible in the search boxes, and I will quote from their website:

To get the most out of your search, type in as much information as possible. The more search criteria the search engine has to match against, the more likely it is to pull the best matches to the top of your results list. Not sure about an exact date? Take an educated guess. As long as you're within a few years, you'll get much better results than if you leave a date field blank. Try these general suggestions to improve your results:

Add a middle name if you know of one
Add a birth and/or death year
Add a birth and/or death place

After completing your initial search, you might want to narrow your search results to those found only in a particular category or database. Simply click on the desired category or database listed to the left of the search results to narrow your results. This will take you to a new search results page that shows you results found only in the chosen category.

I am not sure I totally agree with this – probably because I don’t like the new search - but will leave you to make your minds up! One thing to remember is that if you use the new search method and select exact matches only, then too much information will often give nil result.

Specifying years in your search

If at all possible I would suggest you select +/- 2 years, or even +/- 5 years when searching with dates, particularly when the dates refer to years of birth. We have all seen how our ancestors can drop a few years off their age on the census or even on marriage certificates when one partner wishes to appear younger than he/she actually is.

Finding datasets on Ancestry

Click on SEARCH and select SEARCH ALL RECORDS and you will see a general list of the records at the right hand side of the page. Selecting one of the headings will take a new page which will allow you to search that particular collection and generally under the search box you will see the individual datasets which make up that collection which can be searched on an individual basis if you prefer.

Use the Card Catalogue to find records – link available on the Home Page under Quick Links section

If you know the title of the database then enter it in the search box. Alternatively enter a keyword to see if Ancestry has anything that matches. For example you might be looking for records for Manchester. Type Manchester in the keyword box and the resulting list will show relevant records.

A couple of members have suggested I include a link for the Lost Cousins Newsletter. For those of you that don’t receive this, it’s definitely worth signing up for.
Go to the Lost Cousins website and register, which is FREE, and you will see an option to receive the monthly newsletter by email. Not only does it contain updates on new records being made available, but also some hints and tips which might help with your research as well as offers from different websites.

Until next time …

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