4 Tips for Getting the Most out of Ancestry.com

When you invest your money in a genealogy website, you want to ensure that you’re getting the most value possible. Here we share tips for getting the most out of Ancestry.com.

how to get the most out of Ancestry

I noticed recently that Ancestry subscribers’ attitudes run the same gamut as attitudes of big-box retailer shoppers. Some people {heart} them unabashedly: they’ll spend hours strolling the aisles and share every great find on social media. Others dash in and grab just the items they can’t live without.

Whatever your stance toward the site, Ancestry is still the big-box retailer most genealogists need at some point. Take your cue from top big-box store shopping strategies for getting the most out of Ancestry.com:

1. Grab first what you can’t get anywhere else.

Learn what exactly you want from Ancestry versus other sites, the same way you’ve learned whose house brand of spaghetti sauce you like and who carries your favorite protein bars.

A few examples for U.S. researchers:

  • Ancestry has the most U.S. census non-population schedules online. (They’ve padded HeritageQuest Online with several of these but they didn’t give them everything.)
  • Ancestry’s collection of digitized U.S. city directories (over a BILLION) is second to none.
Norman Rockwell in the Berkshire City Directory

Beloved illustrator Norman Rockwell in a city directory. (Massachusetts Berkshire 1959 Berkshire, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1959)

2. Stock Up on Items that are Easy to Reach

While your subscription is active, stock up on easy to find items.

One way to do that is with Ancestry’s hints. Ancestry’s hinting system taps the most popular Ancestry collections (about the top 10% of the most popular collections). Watch your Ancestry tree for hints and check them all. When you first log in, note whether anyone new has taken an interest in your tree (if it’s public)–and see if they are relatives worth contacting.

 

3. Watch for New Products! 

We’ve written about Ancestry updates that have stopped us in our tracks, like the recent U.S. Wills and Probates and Social Security Applications and Claims databases and the AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool.

We also update you regularly on new records collections that go online throughout the genealogy world: Ancestry databases are often among them.

You can also sort by “Date Added” in Ancestry.com Card Catalog. This is a great way to see the collections most recently added. Look for the green “NEW” tag. 

New Records at Ancestry.com sorted by Date Added

4. Avoid the Parts of the Experience that are Frustrating

Those who hate battling lines avoid big stores on peak shopping days and during the after-work rush. I avoid returning things at certain stores because their customer service desk is not worth the hassle.

Similarly, if the way Ancestry handles photos, sources, or Life Story timelines drives you nuts, ignore as much as you can except for your direct ancestors and closest relatives.

Perhaps you simply download each record you find and work with photos and timelines on your family history software (Lisa recommends RootsMagic–click here to read why). Or use Evernote’s newly updated web clipper (you can even make notes on top of your screen captures!) and store all your sources there.

Resources

Want to learn more about how to get the most out of Ancestry? Here are two additional resources:

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 125: Using Ancestry Library Edition and other tips from a public library genealogist (available to Genealogy Gems Premium members only)

3 Things This Gems Follower Loves About the New Ancestry Site

Family History Episode 11 – Census Wrap-Up: Decade-by-Decade to 1790

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

Originally published 2009

Republished December 17, 2013

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 11: Census Wrap-Up: Decade-by-Decade to 1790

In our first segment we welcome back genealogy researcher, author and lecturer Lisa Alzo. The author of Three Slovak Women, Baba’s Kitchen and Finding Your Slovak Ancestors talks about discovering family traits and putting them in perspective.

Then in our second segment we wrap up our three-episode coverage of U.S. census records with a decade-by-decade overview of censuses from 1880 back to 1790. We talk about special schedules taken during one or more censuses: mortality, slave, social statistics and supplemental, agricultural, manufacturing and the DDD (Defective, Dependent and Delinquent) schedules.

 Updates and Links

For a list of online resources for U.S. federal census data, check out the show notes for Episode 9 at http://tinyurl.com/ShowNotesEp9. More links you’ll want for this episode include:

Family History Episode 27 – Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 1

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished April 15, 2014

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh27.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 27: Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 1

Newspapers offer such a unique perspective on history in general, and our ancestors specifically.  You can find everything from birth, marriage and death announcements, to school and club event, crime stories, land transactions, sports activities and just about any other activity that your ancestors were part of that made the news.  So let’s get started and “Read all about it!”

In this episode, you’ll hear from Jane Knowles Lindsey at the California Genealogical Society. She is currently the president there and often teaches on this subject. Our conversation on newspaper research continues in next week’s episode!

Here are some take-away thoughts from this episode, along with some updates:

  1. Determine which newspapers existed for your ancestor’s hometown and time period. Look for ethnic and neighborhood papers, too. The most comprehensive U.S. newspaper directory is at Chronicling America. This site does let you search by language, ethnic background, labor group and more.
  2. Look for these newspapers at digitized newspaper sites, starting with the free ones. In the U.S., this means starting with Chronicling America and state digital newspaper project sites (search on the state name and “digital newspapers”). These sites came out of the government digitizing program mentioned in the show.
  3. Digitized newspaper searching is done with OCR (optical character recognition), which doesn’t pick up everything in tough-to-read historical print. Try searching with different spellings, a first name in a particular timeframe, or other people or terms that may have been mentioned.
  4. Ancestry has put lots of newspapers on their website—but not everything, and for only limited time periods. Notice what time period is covered for a specific newspaper. Ancestry has since launched Newspapers.com.
  5. If you’ve found the name of a newspaper that probably covered your family, but you haven’t found it digitized, search the name of the newspaper in your favorite web browsers. Most newspapers are on microfilm somewhere and web directories will likely list holdings. Also, some newspapers have also been indexed on USGenWeb or other sites.
  6. State archives and libraries are often a great resource for newspapers. Local libraries may have unique clippings files or scrapbooks.
  7. Several websites and databases now focus on obituary content. You can target a search for these.
How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

Available at the Genealogy Gems Store

I loved this topic so much I ended up writing a book on it! How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers walks you through the process of finding and researching old newspapers. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, worksheets and checklists, tons of free online resources, websites worth paying for, location-based newspaper websites and a case study that shows you how it’s done.

6 Top Newspaper Research Resources

Some of the digital newspaper collections mentioned in the episode are available by library subscription, like The Early American Newspapers collection the and 19th century Newspaper Collection from The Gale Group. Check with your local library.

GenealogyBank

Godfrey Memorial Library

New England Historic Genealogical Society  (by subscription only)

Newspapers.com

Ancestry.com

British Newspaper Archive

Small Town Papers

USGenWeb

Look Who Just Joined the Genealogy Gems Community!

MyHeritage logo MyHeritage.comMyHeritage has signed on to sponsor The Genealogy Gems Podcast! Their support helps us to continue to bring you free multimedia content to inspire and inform your genealogy journey.

Our editorial team has spent several months getting to know MyHeritage.com. We think you’ll love their…

International membership. MyHeritage serves over 70 million members worldwide in 40 languages. Did your English-speaking ancestors originate in the British Isles? Are you discovering Sephardic roots in Spain? MyHeritage members may be your cousins—or know something about them. Check out their world membership map here.

24/7 record searching technology. MyHeritage uses a unique and powerful search system called Record Matches to constantly cull 5 billion historical records for your family. It’s the only family history interface out there using semantic analysis to search  newspaper articles, books, and other free-text documents. It is also the first to translate names between languages. I personally like that matches from MyHeritage’s historical newspaper collections show up toward the top. It’s a great way to find obituaries!

Millions of trees. MyHeritage can search over 1.5 billion records in their own 27 million trees and recently-acquired Geni.com’s unified tree. From a single screen, members can search all those trees plus WikiTree and other trees. But you don’t even have to search. MyHeritage’s unique Smart Matching technology intelligently matches each family tree to hundreds of millions of profiles in other family trees. Members are alerted when new matches appear on the site.

Offline software companion. Family Tree Builder 7.0 is free software that allows you to keep a master copy of your family tree offline.  Read my blog post on that topic here.

Great app. The MyHeritage app for iPhone, iPad and Android 2.2 helps you research, record and share your family history on the go. You can browse records, photo-share, and show off your tree in its beautiful display.

Genealogy Gems will continue to bring you news and gems on a wide range of genealogy topics and companies, not just MyHeritage. But we do encourage you to get to know MyHeritage.com. We choose our advertisers carefully and are very proud to partner with them!

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