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.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 238

The Genealogy Gems Podcast is the leading genealogy and family history show. Launched in 2007, the show is hosted by genealogy author, keynote presenter, and video producer Lisa Louise Cooke. The podcast features genealogy news, interviews, stories and how-to instruction. It can be found in all major podcasting directories, or download the exclusive Genealogy Gems Podcast app to listen to all the episodes and receive bonus content.

Click below to listen to this episode:

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke
February 2020
Download the episode mp3

Do you love genealogy, mysteries and puzzle solving? Well in this episode we have not one but two tales of mystery.

The first has a Valentine’s theme centered around a mysterious love letter. Professional genealogist Kathleen Ackerman will be here to share how a love letter that was missing its last page took her on a genealogical journey full of surprises.

Our second story is a mystery full of twists,  turns and murder that will ultimately resurrect your faith that what you think is lost, may still be found.

Genealogy News

Ancestry Lays off 6 Percent of Employees due to Consumer Slump

23andMe laid off 100 employees due to slowing DNA kit sales

Genealogy Gems Mailbox

The Genealogy Gems Mailbox

Emails from Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners.

Frank recently wrote in saying that he listened to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 227 and my conversation with Ran Snir, MyHeritage DNA Product Manager about their genetic genealogy tools The Theory of Family Relativity™  and AutoClusters. This got him thinking about his own test results and a frustration he has had trying to find matches and records in pursuit of this Galician roots. 

Frank writes:

“Ancestry’s records are almost non-existent, except for some parish records, but this is the region from which Cuba and Argentina were populated, and the ultimate ancestry of Cubans in the US. I have done the AncestryDNA test but my matches are few and far between.

On the other hand, I have worked with a Spanish genealogist and have some records that go back to the 17th century. Is there any program like Ancestry,  23andme, or My Heritage, that can do Galician (Spanish) genealogy well.”

Regarding DNA matches and testing pools:

DNA companies test all types of people and because testers can download their results and upload them to other companies, their pools of people are becoming more similar. Generally, they don’t focus on particular groups. They just report the results based on the pool they currently have. 

Regarding genealogy records:

Start with the FamilySearch Wiki page on Galicia includes links to records within each province.

Conduct a Google Search: Galician (Spanish) genealogy “Galicia”. Click here to see the Google search results.

Additional Resources:

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Third Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke available in the Genealogy Gems Store.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store.

Lisa’s video classes and handouts on Google search are included in Genealogy Gems Premium Membership. Learn more here.

Genealogy Gems premium elearning

Click to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.

From Linda:

“I am a regular listener to your podcasts.  And I am the family historian.  I recently received a trove of documents from my Uncle who had been working to chart the family for 25 years.  He passed away last year.  His most recent quest was to find as many old family pictures as possible and I have continued to reach out to distant relatives.  I enjoyed the recent podcast about the New York photographer website and hope it will help me identify people in some of these very old pictures. 

(Episode 236Interview with David Lowe, Specialist for the Photography Collection at the New York Public Library on a free tool they provide that can help you identify your old photos. Also a discussion of how to find unindexed records at Ancestry.com.)

My question:  a friend of mine has inherited all of her family’s old family pictures.  The pictures are from the late 1800’s.  She doesn’t know who most of the people are.  She is not interested in learning and apparently there aren’t any members of the family who have taken the role of family historian.  Is there anything to do with these pictures other than to dispose of them?  It makes me sad to know that no one is interested.  When I learned a branch of my family tree had tossed all of their old family pictures, I felt awful and it has taken me some time to accept that I might not ever find replacements for this branch.”

There are ways to make real progress identifying photos. I’m going to be covering more of this on upcoming episodes. I would start by asking your friend to write down states / counties / towns where she thinks her family lived, as well as her direct ancestors as far as she knows (even if it’s just grandparents or great grandparents.) With some basic genealogical info on the most recent members of the family and some possible locations, you could then post at least some of the photos on Deadfred.com.

This is a site where people search on families and locations and other identifying information to find unidentified photos of their family members. Many, many photos have made their way to family historians through DeadFred. 

If you don’t have time to post them on DeadFred, and you do know the county where some of the photos came from, you could offer to donate them to the local genealogical society. They might be willing to take them, and their volunteers might be willing to do it. 

I agree with you, it would be such a shame to toss them because you can be sure there is someone out there who would treasure them and may even hold answers. 

MyHeritageThe free podcast is sponsored by MyHeritage

GEM: The Scrapbook Mystery

 

Bill and his dad in 1973

1973: Bill with his dad about six months before he died. (Courtesy of Bill Compton)

 

The Compton Scrapbook

The Compton Scrapbook (courtesy of Bill Compton.)

 

Article featuring William R. Compton in the Scrapbook

Article featuring William R. Compton in the Scrapbook (Courtesy of Bill Compton)

 

William R. Compton, US Marshall

William R. Compton, US Marshall (Courtesy of Bill Compton)

 

Donald Clark featured in the news

Donald Clark featured in the news

Read the news about the murder that occurred on the property where the scrapbook was found:Centerville Fire contained on property where triple murder suspect Donald Clark lived

Resources Discussed:

Learn more about how to blog about your family history. It may just lead to a treasure like it did for Bill. Here is a collection of articles at Genealogy Gems on family history blogging.

Learn more about how to set up your own blog by watching the videos on how to blog at my Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.

Visit Bill Compton’s blog.

The free podcast is sponsored by RootsMagic

Rootsmagic

GEM: The Love Letter

Kathleen Ackerman graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of General Studies: Family History degree in April 2012. She now has her own research company, Finding Ties that Bind. She is also working on a Master’s Degree in Genealogy, Paleography and Heraldry from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.

Kathleen Ackerman

Kathleen Ackerman

Kathleen is the director for the Cave Creek Arizona Family History Center.  She loves to help others as they learn about their family history. For seven years, she served as the Treasurer and British Institute Director for the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History.  Besides her volunteer and school work, she spends most of her free time either working on her husband’s English and Scottish lines or playing with her granddaughter.

“In 2010, my mother found three pages of a letter addressed to “Mamie” among my grandparent’s things. My grandmother has passed away and my grandfather did not remember who Mamie was or why they had the letter. My mom sent me the letter in hopes that I could figure it out.”

Mamie - a genealogy mystery

Miriam (Mamie) Smith Patelzick 1891-1911 (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)

 The last page which may have contained the writer’s signature was missing. This is where Kathleen’s search began.

The first three pages of the love letter

The first three pages of the love letter. (Courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)

Kathleen turned to census records from the time period, and Google Maps to verify where Medicine Lodge was in comparison to Small, Idaho, the place from which the letter was sent. No such town could be found.

She then turned to old maps to see if the town had once existed. She used maps on the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection website. She found a map of Idaho from 1909, that showed Small, Medicine Lodge river and Reno (all mentioned in letter). They were all in Fremont County, Idaho. Her confidence that she had the right person grew.

Historic Map of Idaho

1909 Idaho map published by Geo. F. Cram, Chicago (DavidRumsey.com)

The search moved on into vital records. A marriage certificate for Mamie and William Patelzick in Dec 1910 was located.Perhaps they had eloped?

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t listened to the episode yet. The next image reveals the writer of the letter.

Later, Kathleen’s mother surprisingly found the final page of the letter:

Found! The last page of the love letter.

Found! The last page of the love letter. (Courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)

A surprise indeed, and a mystery solved!

Thank you to Kathleen Ackerman for sharing her story! You can visit her at her website, Finding Ties that Bind.

Don’t wait another day. Get the computer backup that I use: www.backblaze.com/Lisa

Backblaze lisa louise cooke

Announcing the Next Generation of Google for Genealogy

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox By Lisa Louise Cooke

Discover the answers to your family history mysteries using cutting-edge Google search strategies. A comprehensive resource for all of Google’s free tools, this easy-to-follow book provides the how-to information you need in plain English. You will first gain a strong foundation in how to search quickly and effectively. Then you’ll dig deeper into solving real-life challenges that genealogists regularly face. This book will show you how to flex your new Google muscles by mining each of the free tools to deliver satisfying and enlightening results. You will develop a mastery of Google that will serve you now and for years to come.

This book features:

  • Step-by-step clear instructions and loads of images that help you easily follow along.
  • Tips for searching faster and achieving better results to solve the real challenges that genealogists face.
  • How to go beyond Google search by using the wide range of powerful free tools that Google offers.
  • Cutting-edge technology like Google Earth to tell your family’s stories in new and exciting ways!
The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Click this image to order your copy of the book.

Download the Show Notes PDF in the Genealogy Gems Podcast app

 

How to Set Up Google Alerts for Genealogy

How can you keep up with new online information on your family history that may appear at any moment? You can’t, unless you run constant searches on your web browser, and who’s got time for that? Google does! And it accomplish that incredible search feat for you through Google Alerts.

Google Alerts is like having your own virtual research assistant! When you key in your favorite searches, Google Alerts will automatically email you when there are new Google results for your search terms.

How to Create a Google Alert for Genealogy

1. Go to www.google.com/alerts.

2. Sign in to your Google account (or create one).

3. The first time you create an alert, click where it says, “You don’t have any Google Alerts. Try creating one.” Fill in the screen that pops up:

4. Type in your search query. In the example above, I’ve entered my specific search: Larson” “Winthrop” Minnesota.

5. Make selections to further refine your search alert:

  • The type of content you’re looking for: news, blogs, videos, discussions, books or everything.
  • How often you want to receive the alerts by email.
  • The type of results you want to get. You may want to receive all results, not just the best results which will give you an opportunity to see how your search does. You can always change settings later.

6. Enter the email address where you want the alert emails to be delivered. Google will alert you to new content when it is posted on the Web.

Resources for Getting the Most Out of Using Google Alerts
google toolbox book

Learn more about how to conduct effective Google searches for genealogy research, Google Alerts for genealogy, and more in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition. This fully-revised 2015 edition is packed with strategies that will dramatically improve your ability to find your family history online!

Genealogy VideoGenealogy Gems Premium Members can also watch my full length Google search video classes:

  • Common Surname Search Secrets
  • Ultimate Google Search Strategies
  • Digging Deeper into Web Sites with Google Site Search

See the complete list of Premium video classes here.

Learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership here!

 

 

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