Find Undiscovered Treasures at Ancestry.com: Expert Tips

Ancestry.com is packed with all kinds of mostly-undiscovered genealogical treasures, and some of them you’ll never find from a search box.

Here, expert Nancy Hendrickson shares some favorite treasures, tips for finding those treasures, and helpful reminders for improving your genealogy research.

how to find records at ancestry

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Ancestry.com is a “genealogy giant:” one of the four biggest global records resources. Whether you subscribe or have free access through your local library or Family History Center, you should not miss exploring this website for your family history.

Ancestry is also a financial investment. If you’ve been using the site for quite a while, you may be wondering if you are really getting all you can out of it’s vast genealogical record collections and many research tools.

Nancy Hendrickson, the author of The Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com and the Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook: A How-To Manual for Tracing Your Family Tree on the #1 Genealogy Website knows the website inside and out. Today she’s sharing four great tips for taking your research to the next level. In addition, we’ve added in some examples and additional things to consider. So let’s get started using Ancestry more effectively.

nancy henrickson author of Ancestry.com workbook

Nancy Henrickson, author of the Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook

4 Tips for Using Ancestry.com More Effectively

1. Verify what you learn.

Any single record can be wrong, incomplete, or misread by you or by the person how indexed it. Double check the assertions made in the record by looking for that same information in additional sources. Be careful to make sure your sources weren’t getting their information from the same person or place. Otherwise, they’ll naturally say the same thing!

Nobody wants to discover conflicting information, of course. But you do want to know if something is inaccurate before it leads you down a wrong research path.

The best thing about verifying facts in additional sources is that sometimes you find NEW or BETTER information such as:

  • parents’ names,
  • a middle name that proves key to someone’s identity,
  • or a burial place.

For example, let’s say you find an ancestor’s death date in the Social Security Death Index. While it’s a great source, don’t stop there!

Like any record, the SSDI is sometimes wrong and the information it contains is definitely limited. Use the Ancestry.com Card Catalog to see what records about death may be on the site for that time and place. You’ll find the Card Catalog under Search in the main menu. 

Ancestry Card Catalog

Ancestry Card Catalog

Use the filters on the left side to drill down to death records for the location you want. Remember that records collections have been created on a specific geographical level: try local, regional (such as state or province) as well as national levels.

Using the Card Catalog search filters

2. Don’t just repeat what other people’s trees say.

Seeing the same information over and over can provide a false sense of accuracy. Remember, just because seven different online trees name the same parents for one of your ancestors doesn’t mean those are the correct parents. Those Ancestry users may all be misquoting the same wrong source without actually verifying the information! 

You often come across likely matches in others’ trees when you review Ancestry’s automated “leaf” hints, or when you run a general search on a name. When you do, it’s simply an indication that the tree may be worth exploring. Here’s an example:

Exploring Ancestry Hints

Let’s take a closer look at this example.

The purple arrows: You can see that multiple pieces of very specific information are the same on your tree and another one.

The red arrow: You see sources attached to that person’s profile, such as the news article thumbnail image. (Note the difference with the record shown below, with just an empty profile image.) Yes, you will definitely want to review that news article!

The blue arrow: In addition to either of the above, you also see specific information that is unknown to you.

This tree profile looks promising enough you might naturally consider reviewing the tree hint and attaching it to yours. But then you wouldn’t be able to see the news article or other sources attached to that tree.

Instead, click the checkbox and then click the name of the tree to look at it and its attached sources:

Select the tree to review it more closely.

Then you’ll be able to check out the news article along with the other sources and records attached to this person’s profile. You won’t just see what that person thinks about your common ancestor – you’ll see evidence of why she thinks it.

3. Ancestry.com has more than indexed historical documents.

Nancy reminds us that “Ancestry.com is a fantastic resource for old maps, stories, photos, published county histories, and more. For example, looking at the old maps in their collections can reveal the true nature of an ancestor’s daily life, hardships, travels, and more. And your chance of finding early American ancestors is high in county histories: there were fewer people and early settlers were talked about, even if the family wasn’t wealthy or prominent.”

Here are some of Nancy’s favorite collections at Ancestry:

U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918

This collection includes nearly 7 million records extracted from about 1,200 county and land ownership maps from across the country. These are indexed by property owners’ names.

According to the collection description, “They also indicate township and county boundaries and can include photos of county officers, landholders, and some buildings and homes.”

Shenandoah Counties, Virginia - included in U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918

Example: Shenandoah Counties, Virginia – included in U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918

U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984

This is a browse-only collection of “more than 2,200 volumes of county and regional histories from California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, 1878 in the U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984 collection

An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, 1878 in the U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984 collection

In them you’ll find history, biographical sketches, maps, business notices, statistics and population numbers, pictures, descriptions of industry and business, stories of early settlement and pioneers, colleges and universities, military history, geography, and plenty of other details.”

Reminder: you can’t search this database by an ancestor’s name. Instead, look for places, and then start reading.

Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 

A collection of maps and atlases detailing land areas that comprise the present-day United States and Canada, as well as various other parts of the world. It contains a variety of maps and atlases created for different scopes and purposes, including land ownership atlases and bird’s-eye view maps.

Warrant Plan Records in the Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 Collection at Ancestry

Warrant Plan Records in the Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 Collection at Ancestry

Land ownership atlases usually show the names of contemporary owners or occupants of land and structures.

Some of the maps depict countries and wider geographical areas, while others depict counties, cities, towns, and smaller geographical areas.

4. Expand your search to the other Ancestry resources on the Web

Ancestry owns a lot of other web resources. Search these too! 

Nancy says, “They include Find A Grave, Fold3, and RootsWeb, one of the oldest online genealogy communities around. Don’t give up! Keep looking in other places for the information you want to find.”

Find A Grave

Search results from Ancestry.com do include Find A Grave entries. Many of these contain additional information about the deceased and links to their relatives. As always, be sure to confirm the information you find here.

Fold3

Fold3 is home to millions of U.S. military records. Ancestry.com subscribers can upgrade their subscription to include Fold3 access, or you can subscribe separately.

RootsWeb

RootsWeb is a free and long-lived family history web resource, now hosted by Ancestry.

“The primary purpose and function of RootsWeb.com is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research,” says the site. “Most resources on RootsWeb.com are designed to facilitate such connections.” You can use RootsWeb in a variety of ways: search it, contribute records, upload your family tree, post your family surnames on a board others can see, and more.

Ancestry has changed one of the ways RootsWeb users have traditionally connected: Mailing Lists. According to the website:

“Beginning March 2nd, 2020 the Mailing Lists functionality on RootsWeb will be discontinued. Users will no longer be able to send outgoing emails or accept incoming emails.  Additionally, administration tools will no longer be available to list administrators and mailing lists will be put into an archival state. Administrators may save the email addresses in their list prior to March 2nd. After that, mailing list archives will remain available and searchable on RootsWeb. As an alternative to RootsWeb Mailing Lists, Ancestry message boards are a great option to network with others in the genealogy community. Message boards are available for free with an Ancestry registered account.”

Learn More about Using Ancestry

Nancy Hendrickson’s Book

Nancy shares many more Ancestry tips and treasures in her Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook. To get the most out of this book read the section on using the Ancestry.com Catalog. Nancy does 95% of her research in the catalog. The workbook is divided into topics, such as military records, so choose a chapter that fits your current goals. It’s also important to not just read the workbook, but also do the exercises. They teach you Nancy’s thought processes for how she finds specific answers or approaches certain types of problems. Then you can apply the same concepts to your own research. Don’t miss the chapter on social history. That’s where you’ll dig into everyday life. And finally, take advantage of the forms that are included. They will help you log your findings and analyze what you’ve learned.

Genealogy Gems Article

Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Click here to read How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry – The Better Browsing Checklist. In this article you’ll learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and expand your family history research.

better browsing ancestry checklist

Read this article by Lisa Louise Cooke at Genealogy Gems

Vintage NYC Street Views on Google Earth

You can now see New York City street views from the late 1800s and early 1900s as Google Earth street views. Take a virtual visit to the Big Apple as it was 100 years ago! Or travel back even further in time to an 1836 map of NYC conveniently overlaid on a modern Google Earth view. These are just two of the many ways to use Google Earth for genealogy—and for fun.

Vintage NYC Street View Google Earth Pinterest

Vintage New York City Street Views on Google Earth

Over 80,000 original photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s have been mapped into Google Earth to provide what’s essentially a Google Street View map of old New York City!

The site is called OldNYC, and it’s free. 

As you can see from this overview map (below), the old photos are concentrated in the areas of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Lower and Upper Manhattan. Dots represents historic photos that have been overlaid on Google Earth’s modern map (satellite view is also available).

NYC street view overview

Old NYC

You can zoom in to click on individual dots, which will bring up one or more individual photos of certain neighborhoods or street fronts:

Select the photos that match up best with your family history interests, such as a shot of your family’s old store front or apartment building. Or choose images that represent the time period in which your relatives lived in the area, so you can get a flavor of what their neighborhood would have looked like. (Click here for some ideas about where to look for your family’s exact address during the late 1800s or early 1900s.) 

These photos all come from the New York Public Library’s Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s collection, which is also free to view online.

According to this article at BusinessInsider.com, a developer Dan Vanderkam worked with the New York Public Library to plot all the photos onto Google Earth. (A hat-tip to Genealogy Gems listener and reader Jennifer, who sent me this article because she knows how much I love old maps and data visualization!)

Another Old NYC Street View: 1836 Map

While we’re on the subject, I also want to mention another cool tool for visualizing old NYC street views. At the Smithsonian.com, there’s a cool historic map overlay of an 1836 New York City map in Google Earth. Use the scrolling and zooming tools to explore the parts of NYC that were already settled–and to compare them to what’s there today. You can also swap views to see the 1836 map with just a little round window of the modern streets.

The accompanying article quotes famous map collector David Rumsey about the 1836 map, which is his. He describes how you can see that much of the topography of Manhattan has changed over the years—did you know Manhattan used to be hilly? And I love how he calls out artistic features on the old map, too.

Smithsonian NYC street view 1836

Smithsonian NYC street view 1836

Unfortunately, the old map doesn’t show much in the way of residents’ property lines or buildings. But you can clearly see the street layouts and where the parks and hills were. Comparing these areas with Google Earth’s street view today can help you better understand what things looked like in a much older version of one of the world’s great cities.

Use Google Earth for Your Genealogy

There are so many ways to use Google Earth for genealogy! My free video class will get you started. After a quick tutorial on downloading and navigating Google Earth, see how to utilize its powerful tools to identify an old family photo, map out addresses that may have changed and even plot an old ancestral homestead. 

Click here to enjoy this free video!

video how to use google earth for genealogy

 

FGS Conference Early-Bird Registration Ends July 1

From the FGS Press Release:
“Journey through Generations” – A Conference for the Nation’s Genealogists

June 10, 2013 – Austin, TX.  Discounted early-bird registration for the 2013 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference will continue only until July 1. Early registrants receive a $50 discount for the full four days, or a $20 discount for any single day. Details at http://www.fgsconference.org.

The conference will be held 21-24 August 2013 in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the Grand Wayne Convention Center. This year’s conference theme is “Journey through Generations,” and the local hosts are the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) and the Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana (ACGSI). Platinum sponsors are FamilySearch, FindMyPast.com and Ancestry.com.

The conference offers opportunities for all who are interested in researching their family history, with over 160 educational sessions on records, strategies, and tools for genealogists at all levels. The exhibit hall features over 70 vendors offering a wide range of genealogical products and is open and free to the public.

Luncheons, workshops and special events provide additional opportunities for networking and learning. Make sure the get your tickets to these conference “extras” early to guarantee your spot.

See you in Fort Wayne in August!

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