October 22, 2016

Do You Know about Browse-Only Collections at Ancestry and Findmypast

Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and Findmypast and open the lid on your family history research.

browse-only collections at Ancestry

Not long ago, Amie Tennant blogged about how to access browse-only content at FamilySearch.org. Did you know that both Ancestry.com and Findmypast have browse-only collections of digitized records, too? Browse-only collections aren’t indexed yet, so they are not searchable by name, but they are a treasure chest of information. Though it might take some time to locate a record within one of these collections, it’s better than renting microfilm or traveling to a far off location!

Here are a couple of tips for accessing these browse-only collections to whet your appetite.

Browse-only Collections at Ancestry

Unfortunately, Ancestry.com doesn’t make it quite as easy as FamilySearch to find browse-only databases, or others that are partially-indexed.

From the main menu, select Search > Card Catalog. Use the filters along the left side to search for the collections you want by record type, location, and date. When you click on a collection, you will be able to select from the browse options along the right side. If it’s fully or partially indexed, you can also do name searches within just that collection.

Here’s a video tutorial by Crista Cowan from Ancestry.com on how to find and browse their browse-only collections:

A series of digitized photo albums by Canada’s Department of the Interior between 1892 and 1917 is an example of one of these browse-only collections. The collection description includes useful instructions such as: “At the beginning of each album, you will find a table of contents with a brief description of each photograph and the photograph number. Use these tables to help you browse to the photograph of interest.” You can browse through the images like you would if you were using microfilm or leafing through a book.

Browse-Only Collections at Findmypast

I got a tip from a Findmypast rep on how to find the browse-only collections on their website. Just go under Search > A-Z of Record Sets. Enter the search term “browse.” It’s really that easy!

browse-only collections at Ancestry

A portion of a document in the Kindertransport browse-only collection at Findmypast.

A digitized collection of Kindertransport documents is among the browse-only collections at Findmypast. Kindertransport rescued children from Nazi-occupied areas during World War II. There is a lot of information about refugee children in this collection such as who was taking care of them, how much they were being paid, and reports on the medical condition of refugee children from Germany. If Kindertransport was a part of your family’s past, these look like a must-read. Maybe I should have said, a must browse!.

More Tips on Searching Your Favorite Genealogy Websites

Ancestry one stop shoppingSearching Browse-Only Records at FamilySearch.org

4 Tips for Getting the Most from Ancestry.com

Using Ancestry Library Edition and Other Genealogy Databases at Your Public Library (in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 125 (Premium Membership required to listen)

Emigration Records With an E: When Your Ancestors Left the Country

emigration records assist genealogists

Traveling ancestors created records when they left the country of their origin and when they arrived at their new residence. We often talk about immigration, with an I, but have you researched your ancestors emigration records with an E?

When our ancestors traveled from one place to another, they became two types of migrants. First, they were Emigrants with an E, and then, they were Immigrants with an I. Emigration with an E means someone exiting a country and immigration with an I means someone coming into it. Let’s learn more about emigration…with an E.

I live in a country that doesn’t have much in the way of historical emigration records, but other countries do. I have to remember these emigration records when I start looking overseas for my relatives who were crossing the pond to live here.


Swedish parishes kept emigration records which are now on Ancestry dating back to 1783. According to the database description, this record set is pretty complete, representing about 75% of those who actually left the country. These rich records can provide place of origin, destination, and the date and place of departure.

sweden emigration record

For a time, the U.K. also kept outward passenger lists of those leaving the U.K. ports for destinations outside of Europe. The lists include British citizens and those traveling through the U.K. These passenger lists no longer survive for the years before 1890, but they are on Ancestry for the years of 1890-1960. Of course, while writing this post I just had to take a moment to do a bit of searching myself, and that lead to this genealogy gem: my husband’s grandfather, and his parents embarking at Liverpool in 1912!

UK emigration record

I also spotted this interesting item in the database description. Quoted from the U.K. National Archives website:

“Between 1890 and 1920, among the highest tonnage of ships were leaving British ports bound for North America. Many passengers were emigrants from Britain, Ireland, and Europe. European emigrants bound for America entered the United Kingdom because traveling steerage was less expensive from a British port than from a port in Europe. The shipping companies imposed restrictions on passengers registering; passengers had to have British residency of six weeks to qualify. Many passengers too impatient to qualify for residency changed their names to avoid detection.”

A name change would certainly present a challenge, but it’s very good to know to be on a look out for that situation. This is another example of why it is so important to read the description of the databases you search.


A quick search of Ancestry’s card catalog shows emigration collections for Prussia, Switzerland, a few parts of Germany, Jewish refugees from several nations in Europe, and an interesting collection of Dutch emigrants who came to North America with the help of the Canadian and Dutch governments.

Another excellent resource is the FamilySearch Wiki. You can search for the name of the country and the word emigration (with an e) to find out more about your targeted area. I typed in Hungary emigration and found the following information.

FamilySearch Wiki on emigration records

Did your emigrant (or immigrant) ancestor generate records in the country he or she left from as well as the country he or she entered? Remember to check!

MORE GEMS ON IMMIGRATIONFamily History Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

Assisted Immigration to Australia: Queensland Passenger Lists

Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part I

Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part II


What Ancestry’s Retirement of Family Tree Maker Software Means for You

I think this is a long post, but this is an extremely important topic. I hope you will invest the time to read it through to the end.

Family Tree Maker Discontinued

I travel the world presenting sessions on a wide range of genealogy topics. One of the presentations that is most near and dear to my heart is called  Future Technology and Genealogy – 5 Strategies You Need. In it I not only outline 5 strategies that genealogists can use to cope and thrive in an ever-changing technological world, but I share 3 major areas that I believe genealogists should be aware of as we move into the future. One of those is the desktop moving to the Cloud.

Certainly Adobe and Microsoft have already moved that direction by discontinuing physical software sales and moving to a Cloud based subscription service. But the desktop moving to the Cloud has been a more subtle transition in the genealogy space. Today, however, our industry was hit between the eyes with this new reality.

retirement pocket watchAncestry has announced the “retirement” of one of the cornerstone products in genealogy, the Family Tree Maker desktop software. 

I couldn’t help but think that Ancestry was striving to paint a picture of Family Tree Maker as Charles Coburn (in black and white of course) in his classic double-breasted suit, gold watch in hand, walking off into the sunset in a Jean Arthur movie. Perhaps it would be more accurate to visualize him being pushed out. Let’s start with the announcment that Ancestry released on their blog late Tuesday December 8, 2015, and then we’ll probe deeper:

Ancestry to Retire Family Tree Maker Software
By Kendall Hulet

Ancestry is proud to have made a significant investment this year to bring valuable new content and records to the Ancestry site. In 2015, we’ve made 220 million searchable historical records from Mexico available, more than 170 million pages from the largest collection of U.S. will and probate records, among others. We’ve also introduced new features such as Ancestry Academy and major advancements for AncestryDNA.

We remain dedicated to helping people gain new levels of understanding about their lives, and who and what led to them, harnessing the information found in family trees, historical records and genetics. As a company, we’re also continually evaluating ways to focus our efforts to provide the most impact and best product experience for our users through our core offerings.

True to this focus, we’ve taken a hard look at the declining desktop software market and the impact this has on being able to continue to provide product enhancements and support that our users need. With that, we’ve made the tough decision to stop selling Family Tree Maker as of December 31, 2015.

Our subscription business and website, on the other hand, continue to grow and we are doubling down our efforts to make that experience even better for our Ancestry community.

Ancestry will continue to support current owners of Family Tree Maker through January 1, 2017. During this time, all features of the software, including TreeSync™, will continue to work, and Member Services will be available to assist with user questions. We will also address major software bugs that may occur, as well as compatibility updates.

These changes are never easy, but by focusing our efforts, we can concentrate on continuing to build great products for our loyal Ancestry community.

If you have inquiries regarding Family Tree Maker, please reach out to our Member Services team. We’ll also provide updates on our blog as needed leading up to January 1, 2017.”

What this Means for Genealogists

In reality, I would wager to guess that this move is a cold, calculated business strategy, not a warm and sentimental retirement. And that’s OK. Business is good. If Ancestry didn’t do well in business, we wouldn’t have such easy and convenient access to all those records.

Discontinuing Family Tree Maker is a strategic move. The goal is it to get everyone from family history “dabblers” to seasoned genealogists to enter their family tree data directly onto a family tree housed on the Ancestry website. This puts them in the drivers seat.

It is keenly important to understand what is really happening so that you can make the wisest decisions possible for the life of your genealogical research. Our family trees are not Ancestry’s responsibility, or anyone elses for that matter. They are our responsibilities, and we need to be as calculated and ruthless in protecting them as any savvy CEO.

We must understand that it is more profitable for Ancestry to quit producing software CDs, and all that packaging to put the CDs in. It’s more profitable to stop employing and paying employees to ship all those CDs. Digital content is more profitable and easier for a company to control. But is that the whole story?

Absolutely not. Information is King, and it is valuable. Your genealogical information is financially valuable to genealogy companies. (Read Ancestry’s Terms of Service to refresh yourself on what they can do with your information.) Think AncestryDNA is only about your ancestry? You must understand that it is not. Aggregated data is sold in the marketplace to other companies. (Read this article at Wired.com about one partnership Ancestry has with the Google-owned biotech company Calico.)

Not to say it is not a worthwhile effort on your part to get your DNA tested – it certainly may be. But that DNA data has dollar signs written all over it. It is valuable. But today isn’t about DNA, so let’s get back to Family Tree Maker and your tree. How do you, the genealogist, retain control in this environment? Take on a “genealogist-protected approach” to your data.

The Genealogist-Protected Approach

Step 1: Purchase a new genealogy software database program and load it on your computer. I recommend and use RootstMagic software. RootsMagic is excellent, reliable and extremely well supported. Click here to read how they are ready to help you in our transition.

Step 2: Back up your entire computer with a Cloud-based backup service. This is critical to protecting and retaining control of your data. I recommend and use Backblaze. (Here’s an article I wrote that will give you a compelling reason not to skip this step.)

Full disclosure: RootsMagic and Backblaze are sponsors  of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. This is primarily because I use the products myself and have been impressed and satisfied with their products. Regardless of which products you choose, just be sure you put the Genealogist-Protected Approach into action.

I have stated numerous times in presentations, on the podcast, and here on the blog that I view family trees on Ancestry and other websites as “cousin bait” not primary family tree storage. Rather than upload my entire tree, I upload that for which I want to generate “genealogical leads.” My master tree and master database file is on my computer in RootsMagic, backed up by Backblaze.

You might be one of the many genealogists who has thoroughly enjoyed having your entire tree on Ancestry, and wonder now how you can get a software program that fully synchronizes with Ancestry. To address this issue, first go back and read the section above under “What this means for genealogists.” Remember, data is BIG business. The truth is that it is not financially beneficial to Ancestry to allow that to happen. They want to be where you house your master family tree. I don’t blame them. But, in my opinion, that’s not in my family tree’s best interest. Therefore, I follow the steps outlined above, and upload a gedcom of what I want circulating publicly in order to generate “leads”: hints and cousin connections.

whining genealogist protected approach paperI believe it is generally going to get harder and harder to retain control over our privacy and our data. We don’t know what the future holds for computer software. But no matter what happens, we as genealogists will still be 100% responsible for what happens to our family trees and our data. There’s no whining in papergenealogy. And last I heard they still produce paper and pencils.


Here It Is! #1 of Top 10 Posts On Our Genealogy Blog

Top Ten Genealogy Coundown #1THIS IS IT! Our #1 blog post of 2015. Not surprisingly, it’s about how to secure your data on Ancestry.com: your trees, photos, sources and even DNA! 

Earlier this year, rumors circulated that Ancestry was up for sale. Our post about that rumor included tips about how to back up everything you’ve put on Ancestry–trees, source citations, images and even DNA results. That post from our genealogy blog circulated among thousands and thousands of Facebook friends! It was definitely our most-read post of 2015, thanks to those of you who helped share its tips with your friends.

keep your family tree secureHere’s the bottom line from that post: if you don’t already have up-to-date copies of everything you’ve put on Ancestry, download it now. From here on out, keep your master family tree not on Ancestry (or any other site) but on your own computer. If you do keep building your tree on Ancestry, download updated GEDCOM files regularly. That way, if Ancestry gets hacked, goes out of business or even dumps your data (it’s happened before), you’ve still got your tree.

Backblaze Genealogy Gems logosIn that same spirit, back up your own computer systems. Many of you have taken our advice to hire Backblaze to do this for you. Backblaze runs in the background of all Genealogy Gems computers, instantly backing up to the cloud every new or revised file we create, 24/7.  Including our master family trees, digital photos and genealogy document images! Lisa loves that their online backup security is second to none and costs just $5 a month. (Click here to learn more about Backblaze.)

top 10 blog posts trophyClick here to see all Top 10 Genealogy Gems blog posts for 2015–and enter to win a great prize! The contest ends TODAY, so click now to enter!





Why Use Ancestry for FREE if You’re NOT a Subscriber

Many of us already know that some of Ancestry’s content is free to search for everyone. But did you know that you can use Ancestry’s powerful search interface to search genealogy databases on OTHER websites, too? This includes sites that may be in another language–and sites you may not even know exist!Ancestry Web Indexes 3


You may have heard that there’s a lot available on Ancestry for free to anyone. Like the 1940 and 1880 U.S. censuses. Australian and Canadian voter’s lists. A birth index for England and Wales. The SSDI. A few years ago, Ancestry also began incorporating off-site indexes into its search system. These are known as “Ancestry Web Indexes.” There are now more than 220 of these, and they point users to over 100 million records ON OTHER WEBSITES.

“Ancestry Web Indexes pull together a lot of databases that are already online from repositories all over the world, like courthouses and archives,” Matthew Deighton of Ancestry told me. “We index them here because we’ve found that people may not know their ancestor was in a certain region at a certain time. They may not know about that website that has posted those records. What you don’t know about, you can’t find.”

According to an online description, the guiding principles of Ancestry Web Search databases are:

  • “Free access to Web Records – Users do not have to subscribe or even register with Ancestry.com to view these records;
  • Proper attribution of Web Records to content publishers;
  • Easy access to Web Records – Prominent links in search results and the record page make it easy to get to the source website.”

Better yet, you may have a better search experience at Ancestry than you would at the original site. Some sites that host databases or indexes don’t offer very flexible search parameters. They may not recognize “Beth Maddison” or “E. Mattison” as search results for “Elizabeth Madison,” while Ancestry would.

Results from Ancestry Web Indexes point you to the host website to see any additional information, like digitized images and source citations. A subscription to that site may be required to learn all you want from it. But just KNOWING that the data is there gives you the option to pursue it.

Doesn’t Google bring up all those same results if you just do a keyword search on your ancestor’s name? Not necessarily. Not all indexes are Google-searchable. Even if they are, Google may not present them to you until the 534th page of search results–long after you’ve lost interest.

And Ancestry specifically targets genealogically-interesting databases. Your results there won’t include LinkedIn profiles or current high school sports statistics from a young person with your ancestor’s name. (Learn how to weed out Google results like these with The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.)

Some may be skeptical: isn’t it bad form for Ancestry to reference other sites’ material, especially when they often do so without consulting the host of the databases? They do have an opt-out policy for those who wish their databases to be removed from the search engine. Matthew says a couple of places have opted out–because the increased web traffic was too much for them to handle. That tells me that Ancestry Web Indexes are helping a lot of people find their family history in places they may otherwise never have looked.


unofficial guide to ancestrycom

4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Ancestry.com

Use Ancestry for Free at the Public Library: Tips in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #125, available to Genealogy Gems Premium website members

Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com by Nancy Hendrickson, available in paperback and on Kindle!

share celebrate balloonsThank you for sharing this post with others who will want to know what they can do for FREE on Ancestry!







Ancestry Publishes HUGE Collection of U.S. Wills and Probate Records

US Wills and Probate Ancestry More than 100 million people are mentioned in Ancestry’s newest database of U.S. wills and probate records, an exclusive collection spanning over 300 years. To celebrate, Ancestry is offering free access through September 7.

This morning, Ancestry launched an enormous–and enormously significant–new online records collection. According to its press release, “More than 170 million pages from the largest collection of wills and probate records in the United States is now available online exclusively on Ancestry. With searchable records included from all 50 states spread over 337 years (1668-2005), this unprecedented collection launches a new category of records for family history research never before available online at this scale the United States.”

Wills and estate records are one of those record types that have been less-accessible online. First, the records themselves are not easy to digitize or even index. They are often thick files, packed with various kinds of documents that may be fragile and of varying sizes. Several people may be mentioned throughout the file, but finding and picking out their names to put in an index is time-consuming.

Furthermore, the U.S. has no central will or probate registry. This happens on a county level, generally. Compiling a centralized database from all those county offices or archives is a huge undertaking.

According to the Ancestry release, “Ancestry spent more than two years bringing this collection online, working with hundreds of different archives from individual state and local courts across the country and making a $10M investment to license and digitize the records.”

Better yet, “the documents cover well over 100 million people, including the deceased as well as their family, friends and others involved in the probate process. Ancestry expects to continue to grow the collection, with additional records available over the next several years.”

Todd Godfrey, VP of Global Content at Ancestry, loves the fact that wills and probate records can reveal not just names, dates and family relationships, but stories. “Wills can offer an incredible view into the lives of your ancestors…providing insight into their personality, character, achievements, relationships, and more,” said Godfrey. “Reading these records you will find a deeper level of understanding about who your ancestors were, who they cared about, what they treasured, and how they lived.”

Learn more about this collection in Finding Your Family in Wills and Probate Records (Ancestry’s new in-depth guide) or click here to search the collection. Great news for those without Ancestry subscriptions: The U.S. Wills and Probates collection is free to access on Ancestry, along with all U.S. birth, marriage and death records, through September 7 (10pm MT).

share celebrate balloonsPlease share the great news! Click on your preferred social media channel on this page or copy the link into an email and send it out to your family and friends!

Resources: More Great U.S. Records Online!

U.S. State Census Records: Capture Your Family History Between Federal Censuses

NEW! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

4 Fabulous Ways to Use the Library of Congress for Genealogy 

NEW! Try this now! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

Ancestry Publishes U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

The new U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index 1936 – 2007 is a critical update to our ability to access information in U.S. Social Security applications, and perfect companion to the SSDI.

“This database picks up where the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) leaves off by providing more details than those included in the SSDI,” says the database description. “It includes information filed with the Social Security Administration through the application or claims process, including valuable details such as birth date, birth place, and parents’ names. While you will not find everybody who is listed in the SSDI in this database, data has been extracted for more than 49 million people.” Some data will not appear for newer records; click here to read more about it and access the index.

Let’s take a look at the difference between the SSDI and the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index. (Click here to read a great article by the Legal Genealogist about the limitations of the SSDI.)

First a search on Charles A. Burkett in the SSDI:

Social Security Death Index SSDI

As you can see, the information is fairly limited. And there’s something else very important missing here. In the Suggested Records list on the right, the new U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index is not listed. This is an important reminder that we must not rely solely on the bread crumb trails on any genealogy website to lead us to all online available records.

Now I’ll search for him in the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index:

U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

And now I have his mother’s and father’s names!

Check back tomorrow (and every Friday) here at the Genealogy Gems blog for our full list of new and updated records from around the web.


HeritageQuest Online Gets Better With Ancestry’s Support

HeritageQuest Online improvesHeritageQuest Online is now even more worth the trip to your local library to access for free, now that its new interface is powered by Ancestry.

For the past few months, library patrons have been getting used to a new version of HeritageQuest Online. This online genealogy resource, available only at libraries or through their websites, “has a new interface powered by Ancestry, enriching the search experience and streamlining the research process,” as described by a company press release a few months ago.

“The intuitive interface provides a fresh user experience that will be familiar to Ancestry.com users,” states the release. “A new Image Viewer offers basic and advanced capabilities without any plug-in, making it easy to share images with family and friends. Image resolution…is significantly improved with the addition of greyscale and color. The Research Aids resources for learning opportunities for novice, intermediate, and advanced searchers.”

Other bloggers have commented on the improved user interface, but what caught my eye was a more detailed, mouthwatering description of all the census extras and other new HeritageQuest Online content (from its site):

  • “Now available for searching is the entire U.S. Federal Census collection from Ancestry.com including supplements (e.g., 1940 Enumeration District Maps) and several schedules (e.g., non-population schedules) previously not included for searching.
  • 20,000 city directories have been added to the existing city directories in the Book collection, increasing the size of the Books collection to more than 45,000 titles.
  • Expanded content in the Revolutionary War Collection. The entirety of the NARA Series M804 is now included here, providing access not only to the previously available “Selected Records” (Series M805) but now also to the “Non-Selected” records of each file.”

Finally, four of the six HeritageQuest Online data collections (Census, Books, Revolutionary War, and Freedman’s Bank) have “brand new search pages with limits, exact matching options, and additional fields for searching.”


5 Genealogy Resources to Look for at YOUR Public Library

WorldCat for Genealogy: 40 Million Records and Digital Gateway

Premium podcast 125Genealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about using HeritageQuest Online and other fantastic resources in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 125. (Premium membership required: learn more about that here.)

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 181

1950s family historySock hops. Drive-ins. Juke boxes. Fuzzy dice. Letterman jackets. Poodle skirts, bobby socks and saddle shoes. Do the 1950s come to mind? They will when you listen to the newly-published Genealogy Gems podcast, episode 181!

The 1950s are a great era to research your family history, but it may not seem easy at first. Federal censuses (1950 in the U.S. and 1951 in Canada, the U.K. and Australia) are privacy-restricted, and so are many vital records.

In this episode, I’ll inspire you with several very FUN approaches to learning about your family history during this time period. I’ll also give you some tips and factoids about those blacked-out 1950s censuses–including which census had women up in arms because the government asked them to be more honest about their ages!

There’s plenty of news in this episode, too, from a new Google innovation to two new record collections online that fill in some holes in U.S. documentary history (military and African-American). I’ll read some mail from YOU about the new Ancestry site and family history blogging and share some helpful resources. And we announce the latest Genealogy Gems Book Club pick: listen or click here to learn more about that!

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastClick here to access Genealogy Gems podcast episode 181. Love this and looking for more? Click here to access the FULL archive of FREE Genealogy Gems podcast episodes. If you love the podcast format but are looking for a more step-by-step approach to family history, check out our free Family History Made Easy podcast series.