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.

Yay! More Digitization of Genealogy Records at the National Archives (US)

The US National Archives has signed agreements with FamilySearch and Ancestry to put more of the Archives’ unique genealogical treasures online. We think that’s worth shouting about!

The National Archives has been working with FamilySearch and Ancestry for years to digitize genealogical treasures from its vaults. Contracts have been signed to continue efforts with both partners to digitize even MORE genealogy records at the National Archives: MORE birth, marriage, death, immigration and military service records! Here are some highlights from the contract:

1. Partners will now “be able to post segments of large collections immediately, rather than waiting for the entire collection to be completed.” This sounds familiar to users of FamilySearch, which regularly dumps un-indexed chunks of digitized content onto its site just to make it available faster.

2. The updated agreement contains provisions to protect “personally identifying information.”

3. Ancestry will have a shorter time period (by 12-24 months) during which they have exclusive rights to publish the images together with the index. After that, the National Archives can put the material on its site and/or share it with other partners.

4. The National Archives “will continue to receive copies of the digital images and metadata for inclusion in its online catalog….The public will be able to access these materials free of charge from National Archives research facilities nationwide [not online]. Ancestry.com makes the digitized materials available via subscription.”

What kind of data is already online from The National Archives?

FamilySearch and Ancestry already host digital images of millions of National Archives documents: U.S. federal censuses. Passenger lists. Border crossings. Naturalization records. Compiled military service records. Freedman’s Bank and Freedmen’s Bureau records (the latter are currently being indexed). Federal taxation records. And the list goes on! According to the press release, before these partnerships began, “many of these records were only available by request in original form in the research rooms of the National Archives.”

Click here to search all the National Archives content on Ancestry (more than 170 million images; subscription required to view).

Just in case you’re wondering (and I was wondering), The National Archives isn’t playing favorites with their partnerships. This list shows that a National Archives partnership is pending with Findmypast. They’re already working with Fold3. I wasn’t surprised to see the John F. Kennedy Library on their list, but I wouldn’t have guessed the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland!

Click to read more National Archives gems on our website:

Celebrate the U.S. Constitution with National Archives Resources

National Archives Digitizing Projects: Colonial, WWII, Jewish and More

National Archives Regional Facilities Closing or Consolidating

 

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsHere’s our weekly roundup of new genealogy records online! Everyone should check out the updates to PERSI at Findmypast. Also, there records of Australia-bound passengers; British watermen; Idaho marriages; and wills for Rhode Island and Staffordshire, England.

AUSTRALIA IMMIGRATION. New at TheGenealogist are over 190,000 indexed records for passengers who departed from Britain and Ireland on early migrant ships to New South Wales in the years between 1828 and 1896. According to a press release, “The transcripts of the latest release uniquely give a family link so you can see spouses and children setting out on their new life. They also reveal details such as which ship they had sailed on, where they were landing, the passenger’s occupation and in the case where the migrant has been assisted to travel out to a job, their employer’s name.”

BRITISH WATERMEN. If any of your ancestors may have worked as watermen in London, their names may appear in several new Findmypast databases:

ENGLAND WILLS. Wills and probate records for Staffordshire, England (1521-1860) are newly searchable on Findmypast. The index includes names, death dates, occupation and next of kin information.

IDAHO MARRIAGES. A marriage index for Idaho (1842-1964, 1975-1996) has been updated at Ancestry. Indexed entries may include “name, spouse’s name, spouse’s gender, marriage date and location, county and state in which the marriage was recorded, residence of bride and groom, and source information.”

PERSI UPDATE. Findmypast has done a quarterly update to the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), a database of thousands of genealogically-relevant articles in journals, magazines and newsletters. According to a release, “35 different publications have either been newly added to the collection or updated with additional coverage….You’ll find fully searchable new articles from states, cities and towns across America….The latest additions include indexes on English, Irish, Australian and Swedish genealogy too.”

RHODE ISLAND WILLS. Ancestry’s collection of Rhode Island wills and probate records (1582-1932) has been updated. It now includes images for probate records from all counties, though some may be missing for various localities or time periods.

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