Thursday, January 7, 2010

Navigating the Census Databases

I've always felt like a ship waiting to go through the locks on a canal when I've wanted to "go back" to a former screen, or to another database, on I really hate using the "Back" button and waiting for the next page to load, and it's even worse when there are four "Back" button clicks.

I wrote about relieving some of my "Ancestry Frustration Level" in my post about using Michael John Neill's quick links here. That works fine if you want to go from one database to another -for example, from the 1930 census to the 1920 census.

I think I've finally figured out my "best practice" to navigate within a census Results list, or to quickly go to a database for another census year. Perhaps this is old hat to many of my readers, but if it helps someone else relieve their " Frustration Level," then it is worth the bandwidth.

My "best practice" way stays within the system and uses the same number of mouse clicks as using Michael Neill's web page. The "key" to this way is to customize your Home Page so that the Record Collections box is at the top right (so you don't have to scroll down the Home Page) - beside the Search Fields, as shown below:

If you want to change to another census database, or to another database collection, all you have to do is click on the "Home" tab if it is shown on the screen. Note that in all of these examples, I'm using the "Old Search" screens, which is still my user preference, and Internet Explorer 7 for this demo, so your experience may vary.

If I choose the 1930 US Census, from the link in the Record Collection box above, I can enter a name in the search field - I chose Last Name = "Seaver" and checked "Exact matches" (I almost always use Exact Matches too... a user preference):

Clicking on the orange "Search" button at the bottom of the Search Field (and I wish there was one on the top of the Search field...) takes me to the list of "Search Results" for my search parameters:

If I wanted to "Go Back" to do another search in this census, I can use my "Back" button once (left arrow) on my URL line, or I can scroll or use the "End" key to go to the Search fields at the bottom of this screen; I prefer the latter because it is one less page load! If I wanted to "Go Back" to work in another census, I can click my "Back" button two times to get to the "Home" Page, or click once on the "Home" tab on the Ancestry menu line. I prefer the latter! Note that if you click on the "Search" tab on the Ancestry menu line, you cannot easily change to another database.

If I choose one of the matches on the Search Results list above, I can click on the "View Record" link beside the name and see the Ancestry Record for the selected person. I scrolled down the list and selected Barbara C. Leaver, hit "View Record" and the Ancestry Record appeared:

Again, if I want to "Go Back" to the "Search Results" list, I can click the "Back" arrow once to select another person from the list or scroll to the bottom of that page to change the Search parameters; if I want to "Go Back" to work in another census, I can click my "Back" button three times or click once on the "Home" tab on the Ancestry menu line (but not the "Search" button on the Ancestry menu line).

If I want to see the actual Census record for my selected person, then I can click on the "View image" link on the screen above. Here is the 1930 census screen for the family with Barbara C. Leaver:

Note that there is now no "Home" or "Search" tab on the Ancestry menu. If I wanted to "Go Back" to work in another census, I can click my "Back" button four times or click once on the "" link at the top of the page (which takes me to the "Home" page). If I want to do another search within this census, I have to click my "Back" button two times to get to the "Search Results" page and enter new information into the search fields, or click "Back" three times to get to the Search field screen.

There is a slightly faster way (you still need two clicks, but you avoid one or more page loads), and that is to go to the little down-arrow next to the "Forward" button on your URL line and click on it. Here is what I see (note the dropdown menu in the upper left corner of the screen):

I can then select any previous web page in the list - if I want to modify my search, I can pick the one two pages down the list, or three pages down the list to get to the starting Search fields. If I want to go to the Home page, I can pick the one four pages down the list (as highlighted in the screen above). That's only two clicks and one page load, so it saves some time. Frankly, doing these things make me feel more efficient when I navigate the web pages.

Some of these tips work on other websites and databases, but the details will be somewhat different.

What little navigation tricks or tips do you have for navigating This old dog is always willing to learn new tricks!


GeneaDiva said...


Sometimes when I am really "working" those census records, I will open up ancestry on 3 or 4 browsers so I just tab between the years rather than having to go back as far. This cuts down on a lot of frustration for me. I can have my ancestry tree open at the same time to make sure I am seeing the correct family and to look at anything else I need too.

Sharon said...

I do the same thing as "Diva" but with Vista you can have several pages open in the same browser.

Randy: maybe I missed it, but did you try out Ancestry's own "Quick Links"? The box is in the upper right of almost every page (except image display pages like the census).

Ancestry starts you out with a few basics, like Census Collection. But you can add or delete as you wish. To Add merely go to the search box page you want -- such as 1900 census. Then click on Add to Quick Links.

To make Quick Links list appear on your home page, use Customize Home page to add your entire Quick Links list. You can move Quick Links up to the top of the right hand column. (If it is a long list, this also has the result of hiding those fascinating box ads from view.)

Once you have your Quick Links list on your home page, you can re-arrange or delete as you wish.

You can also add links from the Quick Links list, but then you have to type in the URL yourself. If you go to the desired page first, then hit "add to quick links" you'll get the page added easily and accurately.

If you are viewing any page other than your home page, you can reveal your Quick Links, but clicking on the button in the upper right.

It used to be much easier to navigate Ancestry about 10 years ago -- of course there wasn't much data available then either!

Abba-Dad said...

I use new search and utilize the "Narrow by Category" or "Narrow by Collection" on the left hand side. This way if I have my search parameters figured out and I want to do the same search in 1930 and then 1920 then 1910 I can just go one level up and go to the right database. And I almost always use "Summarized by category." I can't figure out what use "Summarized by relevance" has.

Sharon said...

I use NetCaptor. I open it up and tell it what group to use. The one I use the most has tabs across the top reading "1930," "1920," "SSDI," "Deaths" (, and others both on ancestry and outside.
No matter what I do on those tabs, the label stays the same. Makes it easy to compare a family across records and years.
To do another search in 1930 for example, I just select "tab home" on the "1930" tab.
I've got another group that I use when I'm digging into a family in the UK. The tabs are for the various census years, vital records indexes, FamilySearch, etc.
Netcaptor is an old program that sits on IE. I could not function without it.

Geolover said...

Simplest way is to bookmark the main census listing page (or any frequently used database or database group) in browser; no waiting for any page or ads (even if you use Firefox & popup-blocker there is load time) to load to get to the listings.

In Firefox and later IE versions you can use a tab to hold the Census listings page, which is much more comprehensive than the database list on 'Homepage'. You can then select an enumeration and its particular search screen by using mouse right-click to open in new tab.

You don't have to wait for a page even to start to load to use the 'backspace' on your keyboard to go back a previous page. You can press that key as many times as there are pages back you want to go (but you have to remember how many!).

In Firefox the little arrows next to the back and forward buttons on the browser toolbar give you dropdown menus that are links to past page-views from 'history'. After a while on the web I see more than a dozen next to 'back'.

I find using my browser functions is much quicker and more effective than using pages to navigate through