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.

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist

As an archivist working in a county archives every day, I get asked lots of questions about researching in archives and records preservation. Most questions come from my favorite people: genealogists! In celebration of Ask an Archivist Day, here are the top 5 questions I get asked as an archivist–and my answers.

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist

Today is “Ask an Archivist” day on Twitter, so Lisa asked me to share the top 5 questions I am asked all the time. Let’s jump right in!

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist question1

Archivist Question #1: What kinds of records can I find in an archive?

This is a great question that I never get tired of answering! Every archive is different in what records they have in their collections. That is why it is very important for genealogists to contact the archive and ask them about the various records they have available. I can tell you that archives have records that are unique, not online and just waiting for the genealogist to discover them. You can find records like photographs, oral histories, scrapbooks, store ledgers, and so much more.

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist question2

Archivist Question #2: Why do I need to wear gloves when handling photographs?

When handling photographs, archivists almost always ask researchers to put on a pair of gloves. The reason for this is because the oils and dirt on our hands can transfer to photographs and will eventually damage the photographs. Wearing gloves ensures that damage will not occur but genealogists still get to enjoy holding original family photographs.

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist question 3

Archivist Question #3: What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is the “road map” to a manuscript collection. The finding aid lists what is contained in the collection and is arranged in a folder-by-folder, box-by-box listing. When accessing manuscript collections at any archives, the finding aid will help the genealogist know what is in the collection.

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist question 4

Archivist Question #4: Are there family histories in the archives?

Yes! Family histories are found in archives. Many of these family histories are in the form of family group sheets, compiled family histories, and even whole collections of family histories that have been donated to the archives. These family histories can be found in the vertical files collection or manuscript collections. When doing research at an archive, genealogists need to ask the archivist about family histories.

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist question 4

Archivist Question #5: Why aren’t all records in the archives digitized and online?

This is a question that I get all the time by genealogists who can’t travel to the archives but want to see the records. I wish all the records in all archives could be magically digitized and put online but the truth is that it takes money, equipment, and staff hours to digitize the vast amounts of records that are in all of our archives. While there are more and more records coming online every day, there are still records that may never be online and will need to be accessed at the archives.

The archive lady Melissa BarkerLearn More from The Archive Lady

Jennifer recently wrote in with a question about how to archive family history documents. My answer in this blog post will help you care for your precious possessions, too. Then, listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcast to hear more from me, The Archive Lady!

Native American Genealogy – Episode 76

Native American genealogy research follows the same path that all good genealogy research does, but it also includes some unique records along the way. It’s a fascinating journey, and in Elevenses with Lisa episode 76 professional genealogist Judy Nimer Muhn (Lineage Journeys) joins Lisa Louise Cooke to pave the way. Judy will discuss:

  • Tribal and personal naming conventions
  • Tribal-specific resources
  • How geography impacts research
  • Native American genealogical records
  • and more…

Episode 76 Show Notes 

Native American genealogy research follows the same path that all good genealogy research does, but it also includes some unique records along the way. It’s a fascinating journey, and in Elevenses with Lisa episode 76 professional genealogist Judy Nimer Muhn (Lineage Journeys) joins Lisa Louise Cooke to pave the way. Judy will discuss:

  • Tribal and personal naming conventions
  • Tribal-specific resources
  • How geography impacts research
  • Native American genealogical records
  • and more…

Five Tribes

  • Navaho/Navajo: Diné
  • Cherokee: Tsalagi or Aniyunwiya
  • Sioux: Lakota, Nakota or Dakota
  • Chippewa: Ojibwa
  • Choctaw: Choctah or Chahta

GEOGRAPHY

Native Land Map

 Features:

  • Enter a location
  • Mouse and click around on the map to see the relevant territories in a location.
  • Select or search from a dropdown of territories, treaties, and languages.
  • Click and links will appear with nation names. Click a link to be taken to a page specifically about that nation, language, or treaty.
  • Export the map to a printable image file
  • You can turn map labels on or off to see non-Indigenous borders and towns
  • Mobile apps available for iOS and Android.
Native Map Digital Map

Native Map Digital Map

CENSUS RECORDS

Census Records at Genealogy Websites:

From the Article: “Native people were largely excluded from the federal census until at least 1860.”

Native American Research at FamilySearch Wiki

Native American Research at FamilySearch Wiki

National Archives

  • Article by James P. Collins called Native Americans in the Census, 1860-1890 which will help you understand what you may be able to find during that time period.

At the National Archives you will find:

  • Links to Native American records
  • Download data collection research sheets for free

Visit the National Archives resource page for Native American Research

The Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Bureau of Indian Affairs was required to take an annual census of Native communities. (ex. Dawes Rolls)

  • Some are available for free at Familysearch.org
  • Compiled into one collection ranging from 1885 to 1940.
  • Not all communities were represented.
  • Collection may not be fully indexed

Free Native American Genealogy Databases

  1. 1817 Cherokee Reservation Roll
  2. 1880 Cherokee Census
  3. 1924 Baker Roll
  4. 1954 Proposed Ute Rolls
  5. Armstrong Rolls
  6. Dawes Commission Case Files
  7. (Dawes Rolls) Final Rolls Index and Search the Final Rolls
  8. Drennen Rolls
  9. Guion Miller Roll
  10. Kern Clifton Rolls
  11. McKennon Roll
  12. Old Settlers Roll
  13. Wallace Roll

Library of Congress

Here you’ll find many resources including newspapers, photos and reports to congress and oral histories.

Judy found materials deep within the Library of Congress website using Googling strategies from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox available exclusively at the Genealogy Gems Store.

Michigan State University

Native American Studies Research Guide: Introduction

Michigan State University Native American Resources

Michigan State University Native American Resources

Resources

These show notes feature everything we cover in this episode. Premium Members: download this exclusive ad-free show notes handout PDF.  Not a member yet? Learn more and join the Genealogy Gems and Elevenses with Lisa family here

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

How to Watch the Show Live

Three ways to watch:
1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player on the show notes page.
2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

See all of the available episodes here. 

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Finding and Downloading Elevenses with Lisa Show Notes

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Lisa Louise Cooke Speaking Schedule

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