Monday, November 2, 2015

Monday Mailbox: vs. Census Search

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

I am trying to create a specialized research project on African-Americans in 1910 of Precinct 8, Saint Lucie County, Florida. I have tried several ways to search through Ancestry. The results are very strange and sometimes I get 157,000+ from all over the U.S. I used the "Lived In" search. It appears that although they use Precinct 8 as a town, it does not recognize it in the search function. Is there a better way? I also changed it from Black to Mulatto to Colored, etc.

Thank you
Pam Cooper

Dear Pam,

I think you’ve hit upon the source of the problem. When you select a location from the drop down list, you get what is sometimes called a standardized location. As you’ve seen, Ancestry’s standardized locations don’t identify locations down to the precinct level. When a non-standardized location is specified, they fallback to a different way of handling locations. Back when I was at Ancestry, the fall back was exact search. “Precinct 8, Saint Lucie, Florida” would have worked in this situation. “Precinct 8, Saint Lucie County, Florida” would have failed. Back then, “Exact” meant exact. Today, an exact search for “Precinct 8, Saint Lucie, Florida” matches anything, anywhere with an “8” in it! How helpful is that?!

Your only choice is to avoid their fallout—oops, I mean fallback—methodology. That means you are forced to select “Saint Lucie County, Florida, USA” from the standardized locations. How then do you limit results to Precinct 8? Fortunately, there is a way. has a cool feature that does not. It has often helped me out of pickles like this. It is called Keyword search. I specified “Precinct 8” (including the quotes) In the keyword field and I selected Exact. This search appears to have worked, returning just 105 blacks. You’ll want to compare the results with the images to see if there are other values of race that you want to include.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if you could just download the results into a spreadsheet? has a cool feature that does not: download results. The equivalent search on returns 107 blacks. On FamilySearch, doing an exact search on location worked the way I expected. Why 107 results instead of 102? On FamilySearch I had to select a standardized value for race. Perhaps mulatto or colored was standardized as black. Or, since FamilySearch and Ancestry use different record processing and different search engines, Ancestry may have lost two records.

To use the download results feature, you must first create a free account and login. Once logged in, you can click the Export button and FamilySearch opens a spreadsheet containing the results. Probably to prevent piracy, you must repeat this step on each page of results. Crank up the number of results to 75 before you begin. Unexpectedly and unfortunately, the results don’t contain all the fields that indexers extracted. That’s a shame. Despite the download, you’ll still have to go record by record to get all values, such as race, that you need.

Lessons learned:

  • Whenever possible, select locations from’s standardized list.
  • Remember Ancestry’s exclusive keyword search feature.
  • Try FamilySearch’s handling of place names when Ancestry fails.
  • Utilize FamilySearch’s exclusive result download feature.
  • When you can’t find a result on one of these websites, try the other.

The Ancestry Insider


  1. Ai, you wrote: "On FamilySearch I had to select a standardized value for race. Perhaps mulatto or colored was standardized as black." Please do use your powers of persuasion to ensure this "standardization" of ethnicity is changed or does not happen. Those terms are *not* interchangeable. Many Americans of various ethnicities were considered "colored" in that era even though they had no African ancestry. Among the most basic rules of research is that (a) we should not make assumptions, and (b) we should not alter a historic record to make it say what it does not say.

  2. Thank you, Insider! Now I have a better idea why I sometimes have trouble when I use "Lived In" in searches. Your tips on this post will be very helpful.


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