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.
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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 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
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:
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.”
Example: Shenandoah Counties, Virginia – included in U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918
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
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.
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
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 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 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.
Read this article by Lisa Louise Cooke at Genealogy Gems
Your DNA test results come with raw DNA data. This raw data is the next piece in your DNA puzzle. Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard, shares some interesting facts about raw DNA data and its use. Dig in and learn why!
What is Raw DNA Data?
Raw DNA data is the actual output file created by the DNA testing company. You can access your raw data at each testing company, and I strongly encourage that you do. You will need to download and save your raw data results to your computer. For instructions on how to do this, head on over to this page on my Your DNA Guide website.
This file contains your little DNA values at over 700,000 locations tested by your testing company. Any company with the right set-up and analysis tools can help you find matches with other people, and make additional genealogical discoveries. They may also be able to tell you if you like cilantro and are likely to have high blood sugar!
Raw DNA Data Research Projects and Destinations
Raw DNA data has to have a place to go. There are several research projects underway that utilize your data from any of the big four testing companies (Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage DNA, and AncestryDNA) for various genealogical or genetic purposes.
Home page of the DNA Land website
Let’s look at four examples of places you might upload your raw DNA data.
1. Family Tree DNA. If you have tested at 23andMe or AncestryDNA, you can transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA for free! You can access all of your matches and use the matching tools. For an additional $19, you can get access to the ethnicity features and other tools.
2. DNA Land. The not-for-profit DNA Land has over 26,000 individuals who have voluntarily uploaded their autosomal DNA test results into their website to be used for research purposes. Their self-stated goal is to “make genetic discoveries for the benefit of humanity.”
3. MyHeritage. MyHeritage also accepts your raw DNA data for incorporation into their genealogical database. You can upload your results for free and receive access to matches along with the ability to contact them. For a one-time fee of $29, you can unlock access to all of MyHeritage DNA’s features and tools as well. Learn more and upload your data here.
4. Geni.com. Geni.com (a family tree collaboration tool) jumped on the DNA bandwagon and announced they too would be integrating DNA into their family tree tool. Utilizing a partnership with Family Tree DNA, Geni.com is utilizing all three kinds of DNA (autosomal, YDNA, and mDNA) in their offering. The interface looks much like what you would see at your testing company: a list of matches with some family tree information.
The biggest takeaway from the recent influx of destinations for your raw DNA data shows us that the integration of DNA into genealogy is in full swing. I estimate every genealogy company and every major genealogy software will offer some kind of DNA integration within the next five years. DNA has certainly earned a permanent spot as a genealogical record type!
A Word of Caution
With all of these options available, and surely more to come, you will want to be careful about who you are giving your raw data to. Make sure you are comfortable with the company and its goals. Be sure you understand what role your DNA will be playing in their research, as well. These are exciting times in the world of genealogy.
Take the Next Steps in Your DNA Journey
Wherever you are in your DNA journey, we can help!
Take your very first steps and learn how to get started using DNA testing for family history.
If you have already taken the plunge, learn how to harness the power of DNA matching.
For the most help in understanding DNA for family history, take a look at the ten different DNA guides in both print and digital form from Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard.
These days we are all collecting more ebooks than ever before. We also have more devices than we’ve ever had before. Here’s a solution that gives you access to your ebooks from one convenient location no matter which device you are using.
The Advantage of eBooks
While you may love the feel of the pages of a book rifling through your fingers, there is a distinct advantage to collecting many of your genealogical reference materials and books ebooks. They don’t take up precious shelf space in your house!
However, I don’t live in a digital fantasy-land. I’m keenly aware that there are some challenges you may want to avoid:
- purchasing an ebook and downloading it to one device, and then trying to figure out how to access it on your other devices
- corralling your ebooks from different sources all together
- having to pay for an app or web service to manage them
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
If you’ve ever attended one of my genealogy classes, or watched one of my videos, at some point you’ve probably heard me say that I use Google Books on a daily basis for genealogy. I don’t say that just because the service provides access to over 25 million books, many of them fully digitized and searchable, and downloadable. It also provides you with your own personal library. Let’s take a look at how Google Books and Google Play Books work together to make that possible:
Google Books is a free and powerful service that also allows you to have your own library within it called My Library. As you search for and find ebooks to aid you in your genealogical research, you can save them to your library.
Google Play Books, is sort of the other side of Google Books. It is a vast ebook store that includes a feature called My Books. When you purchase an ebook, it is saved to your My Books. However, it also includes all ebooks that you have saved to your Google Books My Library. Even better, it allows you to upload your own ebooks! This makes it a central clearinghouse for all of your ebooks.
Here’s the bottom line. Think of My Books and My Library as the same thing in two different places: a personal library for your free, purchased and uploaded ebooks. The only reason they have different names is because Google Books has evolved over time into a book store as well. Don’t worry about that. Just know that whether you are searching through Google Books, or shopping in the Play book store, your library is right there with you, no matter what device you are using.
How to Start Using your Google Play Books Library
To get started, all you need is a free Google account, which you very likely already have. Go to https://play.google.com/books and sign in. In the menu on the left, click My Books. If you have ever saved a free ebook to your My Library in Google Books you should now see it on your screen.
This library is a place where you can save, upload, and access your digital books from any mobile device. This means everything is conveniently in one place, and accessible from all of your computing devices, both Apple and Android. You’ll have the freedom to read your favorite books on the go, and to access your digital genealogy research library at the drop of a hat.
Yes, there are some other services out there that could also do the job. But if you’re like me and don’t want to invest the time to learn and pay for yet another tech tool, Google Play Books is a great solution, because we are already using Google Books for our genealogy research.
How to Upload Your Own eBooks to Your Google Play Books Library
Let me walk you through the simple steps to putting this free tool to work for you:
1. First, open your web browser and log in to your Google account.
2. Go to play.google.com/books.
3. Click Upload files.
4. Select your ebook files from your computer folders, or drag them into the box shown. You can also click on My Drive to select files from Google Drive. You can choose epub documents or PDFs.
Now, let me stop right here for a second and distinguish between doing this on a computer, and doing it on a tablet or smartphone. What I’m illustrating here is on a computer. I always recommend when you purchase ebooks to download them first to your computer, regardless of whether you plan on uploading them to Google Play Books. However, if you do want to do this on a tablet, for example, there are currently two options from which to pull your ebooks:
- “My Drive” which is Google Drive, or
- click “Select files from your computer” then tap “More” and select Dropbox.
Trust me, things will work more smoothly if you use your main computer as your hub for downloading, and then upload directly to your Google Books library.
Other things that are good to know:
- It may take a minute or two to upload an entire book.
- The cover will be the title page, not the actual dust-jacket cover you might be used to.
- Currently, you can only search within books you obtain from Google (both free and paid), not the ones you upload.
- You can upload 1,000 books into your Google Play Books library.
- It’s private. Your books are only visible to you when you login to your Google account; you’re not sharing them with the world.
Your Google Books Library on Your Mobile Device
So now you have found free historical ebooks on Google Books (if you haven’t, take a moment and click here to read my article about using Google Books) and saved them to your Google Books My Library. Then, you uploaded your own ebooks and PDFs to Google Play Books. The final step is to jump on all of your smartphones and tablets and head to the app store. Search for Google Play Books and download the free Google Play Books app to each device. Sign in to the app with your same free Google account, and you’ll have access to all of your ebooks. Your library can now travel with you in your purse or tucked into your pocket.
In the app, tap the three horizontal lines icon in the upper left corner, and then tap My Library. You’ll find your ebooks sorted under the following tabs:
- All Books
By tapping the three uneven horizontal lines icon in the upper right corner, in each category you can sort your books by:
Those Pesky Variable Formats
eBooks come in several different formats. While I’m not covering in this article how to convert file types or deal with DRM protected books, there are resources available to help you do so.
The answer? Just Google It!
And if you need help figuring out how to effectively Google search, I have a book for that! The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox–the ultimate guide to using all of Google, including a full chapter on Google Books.
PDF – I Love You!
Many white-papers, scholarly works, and quick reference guides come in PDF format, and they upload like a breeze.
PDFs are so versatile, and they play ever-so-nicely with Google Play Books. It’s just another reason to love your Google Books library.
Stock Your Google Books Library
Are you feeling like your Google Books Library has room to fill? All of our quick reference guides are easy-to-upload PDFs, and all of the following genealogy resources are available as digital downloads in the Genealogy Gems store:
For a hand-picked list of novels and other great leisure reading for genealogy lovers, visit the Genealogy Gems Book Club page. I know you’re going to love our suggested best-sellers and best-kept-secrets about family, the search for identity, and fascinating stories in history.