5 Things I Learned Writing About Ancestry – the Genealogy Giant

5 things I learned writing about ancestry.com


My book, the Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com, was released in late 2014 and subsequently updated in late spring 2016.  Everything in it is up-to-date and in conjunction with changes Ancestry.com has made on its site.

In January 2017, a companion workbook will be released (the workbook is available for pre-order now). The Unofficial Guide took several months to write, which was quite wonderful because it gave me several months to dig into every nook and cranny of the Ancestry.com site, searching for my own ancestors. After completing the book, and now after completing the upcoming Workbook, I wanted to share a few of the things I learned while writing about the genealogy giant.

Ancestry’s Search Engine

Ancestry.com has developed a very smart behind-the-scenes search engine. Once you’ve done an initial search and found an ancestor of interest, Ancestry goes one step further and pulls up a list of suggested resources where it thinks you can find even more information about the individual.  The suggestions are almost always correct. What does this mean for your search? More bang for your bucks. While you were searching for one piece of information, Ancestry was several steps ahead of you searching for even more resources. Pretty smart.

Ancestry Doesn’t Have Everything

Ancestry does not excel in all things. When it comes to digitized books (which you can find in the Card Catalog under the broad category: Stories, Memories & Histories) Ancestry.com doesn’t come close to the historic books you can find at Google Books. (When you join my newsletter list – below – you can access the Resource Library and my video on Google Books for Genealogy).

Recheck, Recheck

If you can’t find what you’re looking for today, check back in a month, then three, six, nine months and a year. 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, you’ll also see all of the databases that have had a recent update. This is so worth checking when you log in. Don’t miss this one. By the way, the right side of this page also has a list of collections that are Coming Soon.

General Search Forms

I almost never (there are a few exceptions) use any of the general search forms. My preferred search process is going to the Card Catalog and filtering down to find the collections with the absolute highest possibility of success. Instead of wasting your time slogging through thousands of irrelevant hits, by using Card Catalog filters you can zero in on only the most relevant collections. Trust me on this one.

Go Back to School

Ancestry.com’s collection of U.S. School Yearbooks is a treasure. With more than three million records, it spans the years 1880-2012. I found amazing photos of my dad and his sisters in their high school yearbook along with information about each of them. (I didn’t know Dad was a horseshoe champion!). If your ancestor or relative lived in 20th century America, go directly to this collection. I’m still amazed at all the things I found.

Do you have more items to add to my list? What lessons have you learned while using Ancestry.com?

I receive several requests a day for assistance with genealogy research. If you would like to receive research pricing information please contact me using the Contact link at the top of the page. I look forward to working with you.

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  1. I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch this way? I have been searching for my birth Mother for many years but have had very little success, apart from finding a half-sister, who is equally unable to find out anything. I have recently found her name on a 1939 register but she then obviously did a great ‘disappearing act’. I have a lots of information on her but can find no trace of her after my birth and adoption. Please can you offer any advice? I am 77 and would like to find out what happened to her subsequently?

    1. Hi Margaret,
      I had a similar problem in my own family; it wasn’t about adoption but rather “who was dad?” The problem was eventually solved via DNA. By doing DNA at Ancestry.com, we were able to pinpoint the person’s father based on a DNA Match. Is this something you’ve considered?


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