Find Undiscovered Treasures at Ancestry.com: Expert Tips

Ancestry.com is packed with all kinds of mostly-undiscovered genealogical treasures, and some of them you’ll never find from a search box.

Here, expert Nancy Hendrickson shares some favorite treasures, tips for finding those treasures, and helpful reminders for improving your genealogy research.

how to find records at ancestry

(We provide links for your convenience to the various online resources and some may be affiliate links for which we receive compensation at no additional expense to you. Thank you for your support.) 

Ancestry.com is a “genealogy giant:” one of the four biggest global records resources. Whether you subscribe or have free access through your local library or Family History Center, you should not miss exploring this website for your family history.

Ancestry is also a financial investment. If you’ve been using the site for quite a while, you may be wondering if you are really getting all you can out of it’s vast genealogical record collections and many research tools.

Nancy Hendrickson, the author of The Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com and the Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook: A How-To Manual for Tracing Your Family Tree on the #1 Genealogy Website knows the website inside and out. Today she’s sharing four great tips for taking your research to the next level. In addition, we’ve added in some examples and additional things to consider. So let’s get started using Ancestry more effectively.

nancy henrickson author of Ancestry.com workbook

Nancy Henrickson, author of the Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook

4 Tips for Using Ancestry.com More Effectively

1. Verify what you learn.

Any single record can be wrong, incomplete, or misread by you or by the person how indexed it. Double check the assertions made in the record by looking for that same information in additional sources. Be careful to make sure your sources weren’t getting their information from the same person or place. Otherwise, they’ll naturally say the same thing!

Nobody wants to discover conflicting information, of course. But you do want to know if something is inaccurate before it leads you down a wrong research path.

The best thing about verifying facts in additional sources is that sometimes you find NEW or BETTER information such as:

  • parents’ names,
  • a middle name that proves key to someone’s identity,
  • or a burial place.

For example, let’s say you find an ancestor’s death date in the Social Security Death Index. While it’s a great source, don’t stop there!

Like any record, the SSDI is sometimes wrong and the information it contains is definitely limited. Use the Ancestry.com Card Catalog to see what records about death may be on the site for that time and place. You’ll find the Card Catalog under Search in the main menu. 

Ancestry Card Catalog

Ancestry Card Catalog

Use the filters on the left side to drill down to death records for the location you want. Remember that records collections have been created on a specific geographical level: try local, regional (such as state or province) as well as national levels.

Using the Card Catalog search filters

2. Don’t just repeat what other people’s trees say.

Seeing the same information over and over can provide a false sense of accuracy. Remember, just because seven different online trees name the same parents for one of your ancestors doesn’t mean those are the correct parents. Those Ancestry users may all be misquoting the same wrong source without actually verifying the information! 

You often come across likely matches in others’ trees when you review Ancestry’s automated “leaf” hints, or when you run a general search on a name. When you do, it’s simply an indication that the tree may be worth exploring. Here’s an example:

Exploring Ancestry Hints

Let’s take a closer look at this example.

The purple arrows: You can see that multiple pieces of very specific information are the same on your tree and another one.

The red arrow: You see sources attached to that person’s profile, such as the news article thumbnail image. (Note the difference with the record shown below, with just an empty profile image.) Yes, you will definitely want to review that news article!

The blue arrow: In addition to either of the above, you also see specific information that is unknown to you.

This tree profile looks promising enough you might naturally consider reviewing the tree hint and attaching it to yours. But then you wouldn’t be able to see the news article or other sources attached to that tree.

Instead, click the checkbox and then click the name of the tree to look at it and its attached sources:

Select the tree to review it more closely.

Then you’ll be able to check out the news article along with the other sources and records attached to this person’s profile. You won’t just see what that person thinks about your common ancestor – you’ll see evidence of why she thinks it.

3. Ancestry.com has more than indexed historical documents.

Nancy reminds us that “Ancestry.com is a fantastic resource for old maps, stories, photos, published county histories, and more. For example, looking at the old maps in their collections can reveal the true nature of an ancestor’s daily life, hardships, travels, and more. And your chance of finding early American ancestors is high in county histories: there were fewer people and early settlers were talked about, even if the family wasn’t wealthy or prominent.”

Here are some of Nancy’s favorite collections at Ancestry:

U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918

This collection includes nearly 7 million records extracted from about 1,200 county and land ownership maps from across the country. These are indexed by property owners’ names.

According to the collection description, “They also indicate township and county boundaries and can include photos of county officers, landholders, and some buildings and homes.”

Shenandoah Counties, Virginia - included in U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918

Example: Shenandoah Counties, Virginia – included in U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918

U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984

This is a browse-only collection of “more than 2,200 volumes of county and regional histories from California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, 1878 in the U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984 collection

An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, 1878 in the U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984 collection

In them you’ll find history, biographical sketches, maps, business notices, statistics and population numbers, pictures, descriptions of industry and business, stories of early settlement and pioneers, colleges and universities, military history, geography, and plenty of other details.”

Reminder: you can’t search this database by an ancestor’s name. Instead, look for places, and then start reading.

Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 

A collection of maps and atlases detailing land areas that comprise the present-day United States and Canada, as well as various other parts of the world. It contains a variety of maps and atlases created for different scopes and purposes, including land ownership atlases and bird’s-eye view maps.

Warrant Plan Records in the Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 Collection at Ancestry

Warrant Plan Records in the Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 Collection at Ancestry

Land ownership atlases usually show the names of contemporary owners or occupants of land and structures.

Some of the maps depict countries and wider geographical areas, while others depict counties, cities, towns, and smaller geographical areas.

4. Expand your search to the other Ancestry resources on the Web

Ancestry owns a lot of other web resources. Search these too! 

Nancy says, “They include Find A Grave, Fold3, and RootsWeb, one of the oldest online genealogy communities around. Don’t give up! Keep looking in other places for the information you want to find.”

Find A Grave

Search results from Ancestry.com do include Find A Grave entries. Many of these contain additional information about the deceased and links to their relatives. As always, be sure to confirm the information you find here.

Fold3

Fold3 is home to millions of U.S. military records. Ancestry.com subscribers can upgrade their subscription to include Fold3 access, or you can subscribe separately.

RootsWeb

RootsWeb is a free and long-lived family history web resource, now hosted by Ancestry.

“The primary purpose and function of RootsWeb.com is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research,” says the site. “Most resources on RootsWeb.com are designed to facilitate such connections.” You can use RootsWeb in a variety of ways: search it, contribute records, upload your family tree, post your family surnames on a board others can see, and more.

Ancestry has changed one of the ways RootsWeb users have traditionally connected: Mailing Lists. According to the website:

“Beginning March 2nd, 2020 the Mailing Lists functionality on RootsWeb will be discontinued. Users will no longer be able to send outgoing emails or accept incoming emails.  Additionally, administration tools will no longer be available to list administrators and mailing lists will be put into an archival state. Administrators may save the email addresses in their list prior to March 2nd. After that, mailing list archives will remain available and searchable on RootsWeb. As an alternative to RootsWeb Mailing Lists, Ancestry message boards are a great option to network with others in the genealogy community. Message boards are available for free with an Ancestry registered account.”

Learn More about Using Ancestry

Nancy Hendrickson’s Book

Nancy shares many more Ancestry tips and treasures in her Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook. To get the most out of this book read the section on using the Ancestry.com Catalog. Nancy does 95% of her research in the catalog. The workbook is divided into topics, such as military records, so choose a chapter that fits your current goals. It’s also important to not just read the workbook, but also do the exercises. They teach you Nancy’s thought processes for how she finds specific answers or approaches certain types of problems. Then you can apply the same concepts to your own research. Don’t miss the chapter on social history. That’s where you’ll dig into everyday life. And finally, take advantage of the forms that are included. They will help you log your findings and analyze what you’ve learned.

Genealogy Gems Article

Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Click here to read How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry – The Better Browsing Checklist. In this article you’ll learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and expand your family history research.

better browsing ancestry checklist

Read this article by Lisa Louise Cooke at Genealogy Gems

New England Vital Records and More: New Genealogy Records Online

Millions of New England vital records are among newly-published genealogy records online. So are English parish records, Irish Easter Rising records, Italian civil registrations, South African church records, and records for Georgia WWI soldiers and Louisiana women.

New online this week are millions of new genealogy records from around the world! First, we’ll feature these (mostly) free vital records collections for New England states–but keep scrolling. We’ve got records to mention for other parts of the U.S., as well as England, Ireland, Italy, and South Africa.

New England Vital Records

New England vital records online got a BIG bump this week with the following additions:

Sample image from “Maine Vital Records, 1670-1921.” Database with images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 2 May 2017. Citing Division of Vital Statistics. State Board of Health, Augusta. Click to view.

Connecticut. More than 755,000 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, Connecticut Marriages, 1640-1939. This hybrid index/image collection has this note: “We have legal rights to publish most of the images associated with these records; however, there are a few records that will not have an accompanying image available for view.”

Maine. FamilySearch.org has added nearly a half million indexed names to its collection of Maine Vital Records, 1670-1921. According to the site, the collection is comprised of a “name index and images of birth, marriage, and death returns acquired from the State Board of Health, Division of Vital Statistics and the state archives.”

Massachusetts: New images have been added to the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s collection for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, 1789-1900. The update includes the following volumes: Immaculate Conception (Salem), St. Mary (Salem), and Sacred Heart (Roslindale).

Rhode Island. FamilySearch has added over a half million new indexed names and 30,000 digital images to its free collection, Rhode Island – Vital records. These are described as “Certificates and registers of births, 1846-1898, 1901-1903, marriages 1901-1903 and deaths, 1901-1953 acquired from the State Archives in Providence.”

Other new and updated records in the US include:

  • Newspapers – Baltimore MD and Hartford CT. Newspapers.com has added issues for two major papers: the Baltimore Sun (1837-2017) and the Hartford Courant (1764–2017). (With a Newspapers.com Basic subscription, you can access issues of these papers through 1922; or, with a Publisher Extra subscription, access those early years and additional issues from 1923 onward.)
  • Georgia. A memorial book for Georgia soldiers who served in World War I is being updated to include the names of African-Americans who served. “Due to the social and racial conditions of the time, this Memorial Book contains the information for only white soldiers,” explains the database landing page on the free United States World War I Centennial Commission website. “The current project is rectifying this by adding information for Georgia’s African-American personnel that also died in service. Further, we are adding names found on WWI monuments and plaques that are missing from the original Memorial Book….As missing names are determined and documented, they will be added” We learned about it in this press release from the University of North Georgia.
  • Louisiana. A collection of digitized publications by the Louisiana United Methodist Women (and predecessor organizations) is now free to search at the Centenary College of Louisiana Archives & Special Collections web portal (scroll down to Digital Collections and click Louisiana United Methodist Women’s Publications). According to an announcement by the college, “The digitized material includes annual reports (1884-2014) and newsletters (1963-2006) – 12,000 pages in total. Researchers can access them online, page through each volume, download complete PDFs, and search the full text versions.” Published digitized material is easy to keyword-search for ancestors’ names and hometowns. Here’s a general tip for finding married women’s names in older documents: search on just her surname or her husband’s name, as she may appear as “Mrs. Alexander Reed.”

England: Newspapers and Parish Records 

The British Newspaper Archive has added two new titles, The Yarmouth Independent (a Norfolk paper, 1862-1891) and The Rugby Advertiser (a Warwickshire title, 1850s-1950s).

Subscription website TheGenealogist has published over 100,000 parish records and thousands of voter records. According to the announcement, polls books include “35 different registers of people who were entitled to vote in Wakefield, West Yorkshire and other constituencies situated in Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset and New Westminster in Canada….Electoral records are taken from the official lists produced to record who was entitled to vote in the various parliamentary elections.” Among new parish record collections are “100,000 new individuals added for the County of Worcestershire and additionally the Registers of the Parish Church of Rochdale in Lancashire that covers the period between 1642 and 1700.”

Findmypast.com has added 312,000 new records to its collection of Kent marriage records. New additions are for the parishes of Bapchild, Biddenden, Kilndown, Tenterden, and Wittersham. Additionally, over 18,000 new records have been added to Kent Baptisms (parishes of Bapchild, Brompton, Chatham, New Gillingham, Wingham and Wittersham); over 3,000 records have been added to Kent Banns (parishes of Bapchild, Biddenden, and Wittersham); and over 18,000 new records are in Kent Burials (parishes of Bapchild, Kilndown, Tenterden, and Wittersham).

The site has also added to its records for North West Kent, described as “areas within the London boroughs which were historically part of Kent.” Over 23,000 records have been added to the North West Kent Baptisms collection, and another 15,000 to North West Kent Burials.

Ireland – Easter Rising and Newspapers

Findmypast.com has added over 76,000 records to its collection, Easter Rising & Ireland Under Martial Law 1916-1921. According to the site, “These once classified records, digitized from original documents held by The National Archives in Kew, record the struggles of life under martial law in Ireland and contain the details of soldiers and civilians who participated in or were affected by the Easter Rising of April 1916.”

“Your ancestor may be found in the records if they were killed or wounded during the conflict, arrested and held in internment, or tried by court martial. Additionally, if their home or place of work was searched they may appear in the records as the collection shows the efforts of the military and police to discover arms, ammunition and seditious material through thousands of raids.”

Also, Findmypast.com has added over 401,089 new articles and one new title to its collection of historic Irish Newspapers. The Ballymena Weekly Telegraph is the latest publication to join the collection and currently covers the years 1904, 1906-1916, 1921-1929 and 1931-1957.

Italian genealogy Italy flagItaly – Civil Registration

FamilySearch.org has added to its free online collections of Italy’s civil registration records. Among them are:

  • Trapani, 1906-1928; 1.1 million images added to an existing collection
  • Brescia, 1797-1815, 1866-1943; 620,801 new browseable image
  • Napoli, 1809-1865; 164,991 images added to an existing collection
  • Benevento, 1810-1942, over a million images added to an existing collection

South Africa – Church records and civil death records

FamilySearch.org has added more than 61,000 digital record images and over 3,000 indexed names to its collection, South Africa, Dutch Reformed Church Records (Stellenbosch Archive), 1690-2011. Also updated at FamilySearch.org is South Africa, Cape Province, Civil Deaths, 1895-1972, with over 16,000 new names.

Keep up with genealogy news from around the world with Lisa Louise Cooke’s FREE Genealogy Gems weekly e-newsletter. You’ll get a free Google Research e-book as a thank-you gift when you do. From this page (or any other on this website), just enter your name where it says “Sign up for the free email newsletter” and click GO.

 

Celebrate Your History! Create a Family History Video

Celebrate your stories with video–whether it’s your family history, the story of your business, or an event or pastime you want to share. Check out 5 weeks of great video ideas from Animoto, including my own family history video on an ancestor’s immigration story.

This year marks a big milestone for Genealogy Gems: we turned 10 years old! My favorite video creation tool, Animoto, also marks a decade this summer. We’re celebrating with them–and what better way than with video?

Last week Animoto celebrated relationships with Facebook expert and author of Relationship Marketing, Mari Smith. She inspired everyone to create a video celebrating relationships — whether it’s a video about your family or friends, a video showing appreciation for a client, or a video celebrating another bond that’s important to you.

This week, I’m honored to have been invited by the good folks at Animoto to share why our histories are so important and offer up the video I created that I hope will inspire others. Click here to watch that short can you buy medication online video (it’s the first one). Of course they also asked me to share a celebratory video of my own! On the same page, check out a short video I created about the Cooke family coming to Canada. You’ll also find other videos celebrating the story of a business, birth of a child, history of a product and a photographer’s love of his craft. It’s amazing how many topics we can celebrate powerfully with a short video!

Click here to get inspired with five weeks of great video celebration ideas, whether you want to use video for family history storytelling, work, every day life, or all of the above.

Show off your family history video!

Which family history story will you tell with video and Animoto? Join the party and show your Genealogy Gems pride by sharing them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter using the hashtags #CelebrateWithVideo and #GenealogyGemsPodcast.

Let us help you make a family history video with these detailed how-tos:

How to video record a fantastic family history interview

How to create a family history video with Animoto

animoto how a genealogy society can grow membershipThanks for clicking here to check out Animoto’s subscription service for creating professional-quality videos. When you use this affiliate link and make a purchase, I will be compensated. I appreciate you using these links because that compensation helps make the Genealogy Gems blog possible.

Best of New and Updated Genealogy Records Collections

This week the entire Genealogy Gems team is heading to Dallas to present a two day event at the Dallas Public Library. With Lisa, Sunny and Diahan so busy, I’ve decided to take the reins this week and bring you a roundup of my favorite genealogy records of 2017! This compilation includes collections that are new, updated, and just plain fun! I’ve really enjoyed digging back into these and finding new genealogy gems. And I’d love to know: what exciting and helpful collections have you been using this year? Please share in the comments below!

The Catholic Heritage Collection at Findmypast

In February of 2017, Findmypast announced the new Catholic Heritage Archive. Roman Catholic Church genealogical records go back centuries and are meticulously preserved, but difficult to obtain for the general public. Findmypast partnered with British and American Archdioceses to bring up to 100 million Catholic Church records online. Millions are available to search online now, and more will continue to be added.

English Roman Catholic Records
Irish Roman Catholic Records
Scottish Roman Catholic Records
United States & Canada Roman Catholic Records

 

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has put online nearly 25,000 additional Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps–and more are coming! Over the next three years, more will be added monthly until all 50 states are covered from the 1880s through the 1960s. This is definitely a collection to keep an eye on!

Sanborn maps show detailed information about neighborhoods, buildings, roads and more for thousands of towns in the U.S. and beyond. A sizable collection of pre-1900 Sanborn maps are already online at the Library of Congress (use the above link). Watch the short video below to learn more about them. The full length class is available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

https://youtu.be/Rhv5vtWwONM

Click here to learn more about how to use this outstanding online collection.

 

WWI Centennial – Free Records at FamilySearch

2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I, and there was a wealth of records and historical resources featured online. I’m highlighting the collection of millions of WWI records available for free at FamilySearch.org, because who doesn’t love free?!

United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918
California, San Francisco, World War I Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits, 1918
Louisiana World War I Service Records, 1917–1920
Maine, World War I Draft Registration Index, 1917–1919
North Carolina, World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919
Texas, World War I Records, 1917–1920
United States Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers, 1918
United States, YMCA World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919

 

Italian Civil Records at FamilySearch

Back in March, FamilySearch added to their unique collection of Italian genealogy records. Five specific locales in Italy have Civil Registration records online. Civil registrations include such things as births, marriages, and deaths. They can also include marriage banns and ten-year indexes. Of course, availability of records will depend on the time period and the location. In some cases, this collection goes back as far as the 15th century!

Italy, Viterbo, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1870-1943
Italy, Mantova, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1496-1906
Italy, Grosseto, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1851-1907
Italy, Rieti, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1840-1945
Italy, Enna, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1866-1944

Learn more about Italian genealogy: In the video below, Lisa sits down with Mary Tedesco of Genealogy Roadshow (on PBS in the US) and talks about doing the TV show, and her tips for conducting Italian genealogy research. This is just one of the many genealogy videos on our Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel.

https://youtu.be/6E8BuprPqsw

 

New England Vital Records

Millions of New England vital records became available online in May of this year, dating back as far as the 17th century. Collections are highlighted below:

Connecticut. More than 755,000 indexed names added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, Connecticut Marriages, 1640-1939.

Maine. FamilySearch.org added nearly a half million indexed names to its collection of Maine Vital Records, 1670-1921.

Massachusetts: New images have been added to the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s collection for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, 1789-1900: Immaculate Conception (Salem)St. Mary (Salem), and Sacred Heart (Roslindale).

Rhode Island. FamilySearch added over a half million new indexed names and 30,000 digital images to its free collection, Rhode Island – Vital records. These are described as “Certificates and registers of births, 1846-1898, 1901-1903, marriages 1901-1903 and deaths, 1901-1953 acquired from the State Archives in Providence.”

 

British Emigration Records at Findmypast

We often talk about immigration, with an I, but have you researched your ancestors emigration records with an E? The 1600s saw a boom in British emigration, and Findmypast has curated several fascinating collections:

Early emigration from Britain 1636-1815 is a collection from Findmypast containing over 21,000 records that allow you to learn if your ancestors left Britain for North America or the West Indies. The collection includes 10 pieces from The National Archives including colonial papers, general entry books, passenger registers, and weekly immigration returns.
Britain, early emigration to Barbados
 centers on your British ancestors who left for a settlement in Barbados between 1678 and 1715. With over 20,000 assorted documents, this collection includes baptisms, burials, censuses, landowner lists, and more.
Britain, Royal African Company, 1694-1743 is a collection of over 55,000 records to uncover the details of those on board the Royal African Company’s ships to and from Africa as well as the names of those who lived and died at company forts. These Findmypast records came from The National Archives T 70 series, Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa and Successors.

Click here to learn more about researching and working with emigration records.

 

…and just for fun…

Sydney, Australia – 19th Century Complaint Letters

When I saw this collection, I was totally tickled! I would love to find an ancestor’s complaint letter, as a window into their daily life and surrounding neighbors.

Over 56,000 letters written by residents to the City of Sydney in the latter part of the 1800s have been digitized and added to the City of Sydney Archive online. A city historian quoted at the Daily Telegraph.com said people’s complaints “range from the mundane to the bizarre,” such as “foul smells, night time noise, stray farm animals and smoke billowing from homes and blacksmiths’ forges.” This same online city archive also hosts a collection of historical photographs, a full run of Sands directories, postal directories, and other resources for researching your house history. Find this collection by clicking Archives Investigator and then “Letters Received by Council, 1843-1899.”

 

If you want to see what other records we’ve covered, there’s any easy way to narrow down to your specific ancestors! Visit our home page at www.GenealogyGems.com, and select a category from the drop-down menu on the left:

You can choose categories like Canadian, German, Irish, African-American, Australian, and more. You’ll receive of list of every article where that topic was featured or included. This is a super easy way to find new records collections for any area you’re currently researching. You can also choose other categories like newspapers, technology, organization, etc. for helpful how-tos, research strategies, and updates. And you can always use the search bar in the top right corner of our website if you don’t see your topic listed.

There’s a treasure trove of genealogy gems on our website!

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