How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry – The Better Browsing Checklist

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 expand your family history research.

better browsing ancestry checklist

In the past we’ve written about how to access browse-only content at FamilySearch.org. Many readers said it opened a whole new world of genealogy records to them that they didn’t know they were missing. 

The good news is that FamilySearch is not alone in offering browse-only content. Ancestry.com also has browse-only collections of digitized records. (Not an Ancestry.com subscriber yet? Click here to learn more. This is an affiliate link and we are compensated if you make a purchase, which supports this free blog. Thank you!)

Knowing how to search and browse records effectively is critical because you shouldn’t just rely on hints. Ancestry, for example, only provides hints from about the top 10% of their most popular databases. That means if you only spend time on reviewing hints, you’re missing a massive amount of genealogical information available in all of the other records. 

Typically you’ll be using the search feature to find those other records. However not all records are searchable. That’s because after the long process of acquiring the rights to digitize and publish a genealogy record collection, it takes even longer to get them indexed for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, Ancestry doesn’t always make us wait to gain access to them until the indexing is complete.

The digital images are published without an index. This means they are not searchable by names and other keywords. Therefore, it can take some time to locate a record within one of these collections. But I think you’ll agree it’s more convenient to look through them from the comfort of your own home rather than renting microfilm or traveling to a far off location!

Here’s your checklist for better browsing. 

HOW TO FIND BROWSE-ONLY RECORDS AT ANCESTRY

While Ancestry.com doesn’t make it quite as easy as FamilySearch to find browse-only or partially-indexed databases, it’s still very much worth the effort. 

1. Head to the Card Catalog

From the main menu on the Ancestry website, select Search > Card Catalog.

Ancestry.com Card Catalog Search

2. Search and Filter

In the upper left corner you can search the catalog by title and / or keyword. However, if you know the type of record you are looking for, such as military records, the best place to start is filtering by that category. If the list is long, you can then search within that category by keywords. 

Ancestry card catalog filtering column

3. Determining if the Records are Searchable

If you don’t see a search box on the left side, then you can assume that this collection has not yet been indexed and therefore isn’t searchable by keywords and other data. Instead you will see typically see the source information box at the top.

browse only genealogy record collection at Ancestry

HOW TO FILTER BROWSE-ONLY GENEALOGY RECORDS

1. Browse This Collection Box

On the right side of the screen you will see a Browse this Collection box. The filtering options presented will depend on the way the collection is organized. 

Filter browse only genealogy record collection at Ancestry

In the case of the Nevada County Marriage database, a drop down menu allows you to filter by county.

2. Make a Selection

As you can see in my example, once I selected a county I can also filter down by record books. So even though you can’t search names, you can often zero in on the portion of the collection most relevant to your search.

filtering down browse only records at Ancestry.com

Browse this Collection box

 

HOW TO BROWSE RECORDS AT ANCESTRY.COM

Once you have selected the available filters, you’ll find yourself in the digitized records. They are displayed in a filmstrip layout which will come in quite handy for navigation through the pages. 

Filmstrip navigation of genealogy records at Ancestry.com

Navigation is crucial since we can’s search by names and keywords. Let’s take a closer look at the ways you can navigate:

browse navigation at Ancestry.com

Browsing a digitized genealogy record collection at Ancestry.com

 

Finding the Filmstrip

if you don’t see the filmstrip view, click the filmstrip icon:

Filmstrip View

 

Finding and Using the Original Index

 

WATCH THE BONUS VIDEO below to see the next section in action. Click on the sound button to the right of the play button to turn on the sound. 

 

Many records that were originally bound in books like this collection include index pages. In this book the index appears at the beginning. If you look closely at the filmstrip images it’s easy to spot where the index lists are and where the records begin. 

index pages and record pages

So even though Ancestry hasn’t had the chance to index the records yet, they are indexed in the book. This will make the job of browsing for the records you need even easier. 

The “About” box on the card catalog entry often includes important information about whether or not the collection has an index. One example of this is the Canada, Photographic Albums of Settlement, 1892-1917 record collection. It is a browse-only series of digitized photo albums by Canada’s Department of the Interior between 1892 and 1917. The collection description includes very 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.” As you can see, taking a few extra moments to read about the collection can make browsing it much easier. 

Browse only database of Canadian records

Save Time When Browsing Between Volumes

Remember that Browse this Collection box on the right hand side of the card catalog entry page? (See the Browse this Collection box image 6 images above.) This handy menu is also embedded in the record viewer. If you need to switch to a different book, album or other portion of the collection, you don’t have to hit the back button and start over. Instead, at the top of the viewing page, click the volume or collection you are currently viewing (this appears as a sub-title under the main title of the collection.) A browse structure menu will appear showing you all the other options within the collection. Just click the one you want and you will be instantly switched over. Think of it as pulling a different volume of a series of books off the shelf!

Browse structure on viewer page at Ancestry

Switching volumes within the collection within the viewer.

 

Browsing Indexed Records

There will be times when even though a record collection is indexed, you may still want to browse it. Browsing isn’t just for unindexed records. Many genealogy gems can be found by browsing a database that you’ve already searched. You may spot neighbors of interest, other surnames from your family tree, and more. So even when you are working with a record collection that has a search box, look for the browsing option in the right column.

browse indexed records at Ancestry

 

HOW TO FIND THE NEWEST RECORDS AT ANCESTRY.COM

The records most likely to not yet be indexed, and therefore browse-only, are the newest records added to Ancestry. If you’re looking to bust through a brick wall, here’s a great way to find the newest records that just might do it.

1. Go to the Card Catalog

From the main menu on the Ancestry website, select Search > Card Catalog.

2. Sort the Records

In the right hand corner you’ll find a Sort By menu. Select Date Added

New Records at Ancestry.com sorted by Date Added

Select Date Added from the Sort by menu.

3. Newest Record View

The Card Catalog will now be presented in the order in which the records were added. The newest records will appear at the top of the list.

4. Filter the List

Use the filters along the left side of the page to filter the collections by record type, location, and date. Then use the search boxes to target keywords. This will give you results that include your keyword starting with the newest collections.

BONUS PDF AND MORE RESOURCES

Making a small investment of time in getting to know the search and browsing functions of a website can pay off big.

BONUS PDF: Click to download a handy ad-free PDF version of this article for easy reference: How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry

Here are three more articles and podcast episodes here at Genealogy Gems that can help you maximize your genealogy research efforts:

WHAT DID YOU UNCOVER USING THESE BROWSING STRATEGIES?

Please leave a comment below and share the genealogy gems that you uncover using these techniques. And of course if you have any questions, leave those as comments as well and I’ll reply.

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!

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.

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AncestryDNA Privacy Policy Update: Why This Change Is Good

An update to AncestryDNA’s privacy policy requires us to take to take one more step when managing someone else’s DNA test. Here’s why Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard thinks that’s a good thing.

Like many teenagers, my 14-year old sees every situation only from her own point of view. I call it myopic-itis. This is, of course, how most of us react to every new situation. The difference between those suffering from this condition and the rest of us is that fairly quickly, perhaps once the shock has subsided, we can see things from the point of view of others, and can therefore be more understanding about the whole situation.

AncestryDNA recently caused an attack of myopic-itis when they announced a change to their policy on how DNA tests are registered. Previously, you could register anyone’s test under your own account. Say you were gathering the test for an aged aunt or disinterested cousin. You handle everything from the order to the test registration to managing all correspondence. Your aunt or cousin merely needed to spit in the tube.

However, effective today, July 18, 2017, that has changed. Each person who takes an AncestryDNA test must have their very own account at AncestryDNA.

A natural reaction is to immediately reject this as a terrible idea that will certainly slow–if not halt–your efforts to gather the needed genetic information from your less-than-enthusiastic relatives. Your myopic-itis flares up and threatens to cause you to throw up your hands in frustration and just forget the whole thing.

But don’t! Really, all that is changed is that you have to take one more step when administering DNA tests for your friends or relatives: create AncestryDNA accounts for them. Then, they can assign you as the Manager of their DNA kits. Doing so allows their DNA results to show up in your Ancestry account, just as if you yourself had registered the test under your account. Viola! (Well, if your relative doesn’t have an email account, you may have to create one, so that would be one more step.)

Now, why would Ancestry decide to so inconvenience your life with another step or two? Well, to protect the rights of the cousin and the aunt that you are asking to take the test. It is that simple. Not that you would, but if the results are in your account, you can delete them, you can limit their access to them. In short, you have ultimate control. Causing each test to have its own account tries to put that control back in the hands of the test taker.

One of the criticisms of this announcement is that Ancestry is doing this just to make more people buy subscriptions to Ancestry. I don’t think this is their primary motivation. In fact, a blogger in the UK, Debbie Kennett, suggested that it may be partially in reaction to a new law in the UK that, starting next year, will require this personal access inr order for Ancestry to continue selling tests there.

But even if getting more subscribers was their primary motivation for the change, how is encouraging interest in genealogy a bad thing?! Think of it this way: let’s say you tell your cousins, “I got this. Don’t worry about anything. I will do it all.” Then they will let you, and they won’t take any ownership of the process or the results.

Instead, now you can say, “I have created a login for you at Ancestry so you can view your own results. I will also be able to see them in my account. I would love to go over them with you, if you are interested. But you can go in anytime and look around.” Then wouldn’t it be great if they really did that? Maybe they’d even get so interested that they’d decide to help you research?!

DNA is one of the biggest hooks we have to get our friends and family interested in family history. I think this change is just one more way that we can spread our love of family history with our family–not to mention protect their privacy and their rights.

In addition to Debbie Kennett’s post I mentioned above, make sure to read the official announcement by Ancestry, and these two blog posts about questions you may have: Reality Check–Changes at AncestryDNA and Managing Multiple Kits and the New AncestryDNA Change.

Ready to test some relatives? Click here for tips on talking about DNA at your next family gathering (like, this summer’s reunion?). Then sign up for the free weekly Genealogy Gems e-newsletter and/or follow us on Facebook to learn about the fantastic DNA sales we’ve been spotting lately.

What do you think about Ancestry’s new privacy policy? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

 

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