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Ancestry Library

Getting Into Ancestry

Click on Ancestry Library.

Please note that you must be either on campus or using the VPN off campus to access this resource.

You can also go to the Library Databases list from the library home page.

Accessing the Search

There are two search links: one in the black Tool Bar, and the green Begin Searching button on the home page image

Links to Search Button in Ancestry

More Search Options

The initial search screen display fields for only the name, places your ancestor may have lived and birth year. To fill in more fields you would want to click on SHOW MORE OPTIONS. Notice the lists of record categories on the right. These can be used to search within specific record collections.


Initial search screen

Finding Individuals in Ancestry

Fill the search fields with whatever information you know about a person. In this case the user knows the first, middle and last name of a relative, and the state in which that relative lived. The user is uncertain of the birth year (though it really would be best to guess.)


Sample search


Click on the orange Search button. The image below shows the results of this search. (Be forewarned; Ancestry has an odd relevance-sorting system. You will not see the exact same results each time you repeat a search.)

  • On the left you see the search criteria with an Edit Search option underneath. You can click on this and use the Show More Options option to add or change search terms. 
  • Below, on the left, you see record categories. You can limit your search to specific types of records by clicking on one of these categories.
  • On the right you see the search results. One can probably safely discard the record for George Angus. (You will see records with names, places and dates that do not match your search terms. There are good reasons for this.)



Search results

Interpreting the Records for Individuals

This record is from Find a Grave, a separate database that is now owned by Ancestry, but still has its own website. You can navigate directly to that website or you can stay within Ancestry, relying on the transcribed information.

Image showing first entry in Search Results


Clicking on this entry will pull up the following:

Image showing an Ancestry Find-a-Grave entry

The researcher knows that the relative's wife was named Harriet. The date of birth is plausible - the person was an old man in the 1970s. (A birth year of 1870 or 1945 would indicate a false hit. Keep your common sense hat on when doing genealogy.)

So now the researcher knows the DOB, POB, DOD and POD. In addition she knows the place of burial, the wife's maiden name AND the likely names of the decedent's parents

As you work with Ancestry and pull up different kinds of records you will want to learn about those records? Who created them? What country, state or county generated them? Who wrote down the information? What events did they describe? What information do the records provide?

Find-a-Grave, as noted above, is a database that depends on the work of volunteers. Field workers take photos of headstones and transcribe the information from the headstones. In many cases they attempt to establish relationships between individuals buried near each other. Be careful. In genealogy, things are sometimes not what they seem. Find-A-Grave volunteers try to be accurate, and they will make changes if mistakes are communicated.

The researcher will go back now to the Search Results. She knows that someone named Lyle Alexander MacKellar married someone named Harriet Gillesby. She saw an entry for a marriage record but ignored it because the marriage took place in Indiana. She wasn't wearing her common sense hat - marriages often take place away from the place of residence. Indiana and Michigan are close. So she clicks on the marriage record in the Search Results

Sample search

This record verifies the names of the groom's parents. Excellent. However, it provides transcription information only. Often you can view the actual record in a separate screen. This entry displays a grey image with the words No Image Text Only Collection. 

If one really wants to see the record one could Google Indiana Marriage Index. The Indiana State Library website displays a list of links. If you click on Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007 you will be redirected to the Family Search website. FamilySearch is a very good genealogy database and it is free. It is an excellent supplement to Ancestry. It is free but you will need to sign up for an account. Remember your user ID and password.

Sometimes you may have to access a state's Office of Vital Statistics website and request a record. Be careful - READ the instructions. Pay attention to date ranges and information concerning who can request what types of records.

Limiting Your Search By Adding Additional Information

Click on Show More Options when you are at the initial search screen, The following screen will display:

Match All Items Exactly - Yes or No?

You can click on the box next to Match All Items Exactly. When you see search results with names, places, dates, etc that do not match your initial search you may be tempted to use the Exact Matching option. 

Ancestry lists results that do not necessarily match. This can be a good thing

  • Your ancestors did not spell their names consistently. Sometimes they could not spell at all
  • Census takers spelled names the way they thought best. Sometimes they had to spell unfamiliar names phonetically
  • Census takers sometimes misheard names and other information
  • Clerks sometimes misspelled names or entered incorrect information
  • Record transcribers sometimes misread written information
  • Ancestors might have gone by different names. Sometimes they went by nicknames or middle names
  • Families and people can be complicated. A Brooklyn police officer, rising in the ranks, insisted he was born in Brooklyn; a ship's passenger list and earlier census records show he was born in Scotland. A young man, orphaned as a baby, raised by his mother's sister and her husband, gives his uncle's first name and his own last name as his father to the clerk recording his marriage. His wife, also an orphan, lists her employers as her parents.

Limiting to Specific Types of Records

When you are searching you will always see the option to limit by record category.

Image of category list displayed in Ancestry

You can click on any of these links to limit to a record category. If you click on Census and Voter Lists only U.S. and state census records and voter lists will display. If you choose this category you will see a list of decades. Click on a decade to limit results to records created during that decade.

At this point you should be able to follow the researcher's example and try some searches on your own. Be prepared to experience some frustration. Be prepared to study records, look for clues, read, think, guess, and search again. Read the information provided by Ancestry's Learning Center and look at the links provided on this guide, under the How to Do Genealogy tab.