Michelle Ercanbrack addressed the topic, “Getting the Most From Ancestry.com” at the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. Ercanbrack presented three major areas of the Ancestry.com website: trees, search, and DNA.
Ancestry.com makes it easy to start a search from your tree. From the tree view, hover over a person and click Search Records (below, right). From the profile page, click on Search Records (below, left).
When you click Search Records, Ancestry.com utilizes information about the person from the tree. It takes it and enters it into the search form for you. (See the screen image below, with search information circled on the lower-left.) [Even when I’m not intending to build a tree, when I want to perform several searches about a person I’ll enter their information into a tree so I don’t have to type it over and over for iterative searches. This saves a tremendous amount of effort.] When using the auto-populated search form, it may be helpful to edit the information that is not germane to a particular search, such as death information when searching for the birth certificate. Ancestry.com also displays the information from the tree along the top of the page, allowing for easy comparison against search results. (See the information circled at the top of the screen image, below.) Ancestry.com indicates at the top of the search results (underneath the ad, below) the records you’ve already found and attached to the person.
When searching, Ercanbrack highly recommends you use the advanced features of the search form. Select Show Advanced. Utilize the place filters. She said if there is one thing we really should take from this presentation, it is to select locations from the dropdown.. If you are just typing in locations and not selecting them from the dropdown, you need to do so. “I never use exact search. It is just too restrictive,” she said. If you type “Provo” and don’t select it from the dropdown, then the search result will search only those locations with “Provo” in the name. You won’t have access to the advanced place filters, which could be used to match exactly, match anyplace in the county, match anywhere in the county and adjacent counties, and so forth for the state. “It is so important. There is so much power in this.” Utilize name filters. Given name matching can match phonetic equivalent names, similar names, or match names with just initials. Surnames have the same filters.
Wildcards can provide flexibility not found using name filters. The question mark character can be used to match names with common spellings differing by a single letter. Specifying Crand?ll matches Crandell and Crandall. The asterisk character can be used to match names when alternate spellings change the length of the name. Crand*l not only matches Crandell and Crandall, it also matches Crandal. When using wildcards, names must contain three regular letters. Cra* is acceptable, but Cr* will trigger a “too many matches” message. A wildcard may be used at the beginning or ending of a name, but not both. In situations requiring wildcards, it is often advantageous to also set the search filter to exact, although it is not required. (Ancestry.com presenters say that exact mode is required for wildcards, but that is not the case. For example, a search of Military records for Edw* Ercanbrack, will match both Edwin and Edward, even when exact is not selected.)
There are several ways to perform a search for a particular record type. A global search of all 14 billion records is not the way to go. One way is to start back from the Search menu and start dialing down to the desired record type before performing the search. Another way is to perform a search and filter the search results by record type or collection. A third way is to locate a single collection and search it. Single collections can be located using the card catalog. Ercanbrack has better success searching the catalog using keywords rather than titles. [I’ve had the same experience.] Google is also quite useful in finding collections on Ancestry.com. [I think this is even more true if you login to Google and often select Ancestry.com from the search results.]
If there was a second thing you could take away from this presentation, said Ercanbrack, it would be to make use of the Suggested Records. When viewing a record match, the suggested records are displayed to the right. (See the example circled in red in the screen image, below.) When you view a record that someone, say a cousin, has attached to a person in their tree, then Ancestry.com lists the other records your cousin has attached to that person. “This is not computer generated; it is user generated,” she said.
You should also scroll down and read the database source and description. (When viewing a record, scroll down and click on Learn More.) In the description you will learn important things, such as if the database includes the locales or time frames of interest to you. Ercanbrack showed the example of an Ohio vital records database whose description warned that given names had sometimes been truncated to seven characters. Names like Elizabeth might be indexed as Elizabe. [This is a place where wildcards may be useful. A search for Elizabe* will find both truncated and complete spellings of Elizabeth.]
To summarize the points Ercanbrack emphasized: Use the advanced search features, paying particular attention to selecting locations from the dropdown list and utilizing the advanced place filters. And make use of the suggested records listed to the right of a record.
Next time: AncestryDNA.