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Tips on Searching

Search Types (Historical Records, Family Trees, Stories & Publications, Photos & Maps)

To best help you find the information you're looking for, Ancestry allows you to search specifically for Historical Records, Family Trees, Stories & Publications, or Photos & Maps by selecting the appropriate tab at the top of the search box. For example, if you'd like to search for Family Trees, simply click on the Family Trees tab and enter the names, places, and dates associated with the ancestor you'd like to find. You can also see search results for a specific type of content by switching between tabs on the search results page. For example, after you have looked through the Family Trees search results, you can click on the Historical Records tab at the top of the search results to see what historical records best match your search. Although you can switch between tabs on the search results page, you will get the best results by filling out the search box specific to the type of content you're looking for.

Get the most out of your search

Ancestry helps you find your ancestors quickly and easily because it brings up the best possible matches first in your list of search results. Ancestry also automatically returns alternative spellings and abbreviations for your ancestor's name(s). For example, a search for "Bill Smith" might return "William Smith", "Wm Smith", "Bill Smyth" or "B. Smith". An exact name match is the closest match, and therefore the most relevant, followed by common variants, misspellings, and nicknames.

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.

Categories are unique to each type of search. For example, Historical Records contain categories like "Census" or "Immigration" and houses specific databases such as the "1930 US Federal Census." Once you drill down to an individual database, a new search box may appear at the bottom of the search results page. This will allow you to search exclusively within that database thereby narrowing the scope of your search. Just keep in mind that the search field options may vary depending on the category or database selected.

Exact matches only

If you'd like to search with greater control and accuracy, you can check the box for "Exact Matches Only" near the top of the search box. By checking this box, you will only receive matches that exactly match all of the search terms you enter. To get the most out of an exact search, you should probably start with only one or two broad search criteria (e.g., a surname and a location). If you get too many results, add more criteria to narrow your search. If you get too few results, drop one or more of your search criteria to broaden your search. Continue this process until you gradually hone in on the record for which you are searching.

When searching for exact matches only, you can use wildcard searching. Wildcards are special symbols (the asterisk "*" and the question mark "?") which are used in searching to represent some number of unknown letters in a word. Wildcards can be effective search tools if you are searching for words or names with alternative spellings:

An asterisk "*" represents zero or more characters (e.g., a search for "john*" might return "john, johnson, johnsen, johnathon, johns", etc.).
  • Any use of the asterisk requires at least two non-wildcard characters (you cannot search for "S*", but could use "S*h").
  • A single character is represented by question mark "?" (e.g., "Sm?th" equals both "Smith" and Smyth").

Ancestry provides faster access to a wider variety of genealogical data than any other genealogy site on the Internet. In fact, Ancestry has thousands of databases of genealogical and historical information that you can search through. You can browse through Ancestry's databases from the main search page

To get to the main search page, click on Search in the navigation bar at the top of the page. The right hand side of the main search page shows you a listing of all of the search categories available on Ancestry. You can drill down on the type of database you're most interested until you select a specific database. You will then be taken to the main page of the database, which includes a search interface tailored specifically for the database as well as a description of the database.

You can simplify the process of browsing through Ancestry's long list of databases by searching for a specific database of interest by using Ancestry's card catalogue . You can access the card catalogue from the main search page.