Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Dear Randy: How Do You Search For Records on

A society colleague asked me this question last month, and I wanted to share my answer with my readers.

My answer is somewhat complicated, because there are several ways to search for records for a specific person on  The three most common ways are:

1)  From the Search fields on the Home page and the Search page on

2)  Use the Hints and Suggested Records.

3)  Search from within the Ancestry Member Tree profile.

For this study, I'm going to use a person in my family tree for whom I don't have a lot of information in hopes of finding more data than what I have.  I selected my 2nd great-uncle, William A. Auble (1845-1901), who was the son of David and Sarah (Knapp) Auble and married to Mary Louise Thompson.

Here are my results for the three searches:

1)  I searched from the home page search fields for:

*  First name:   William [exact, similar, sounds like, initials]
*  Last name:   Auble [broad],
*  Birth year:  1845 [broad],
*  birth place:  New Jersey [broad],
*  Lived in:     New Jersey [country].

The top of the Results page is:

The results that I judge to be correct based on the known information include (searching the top 150 of 62,767 matches, most of which are for different first names, birth years, etc.):

*  #1  1850 US Federal Census - "William A Auble"
*  #2  1880 US Federal Census -  "William A. Auble"
*  #26  1860 US Federal Census - "Wm A Auble"
*  #146  Indiana Marriages, 1810-2001 - "William Auble"

So there were 4 useful results, the furthest one down the list was #146.  If I had added the spouse to the search request, that match would have been higher on the list.

2)  A search using the Ancestry Hints and Suggested Records from within my Ancestry Member Tree shows a total of 3 Hints:

The three Hints were:

*  #1  1880 US Federal Census - "William A Auble"
*  #2  1860 US Federal Census - "Wm A Auble"
*  #3  1850 US Federal Census - "William Auble"

There were 3 "Suggested Records" for any of the census records - and the added one was:

*  Social Security Claims and Applications Index - Bessie Auble Pentecost, daughter of William A. Auble and Mary L. Thompson.

3)  From the William A. Auble profile in my Ancestry Member Tree, I clicked on the "Search" button in the top left of the screen above.  Here is the top of the list of Results (three screens shown):

The sliders at the top left of the screen show that the search criteria included:

*  First name:  William A. [broad]
*  Last name:  Auble [Exact, sounds like, similar]
*  Birth year:  1845 [broad]
*  Birth place:  Newton, Sussex, NJ [broad]
*  Marriage date:  1880 [broad]
*  Marriage place:  Terre Haute, Vigo, Indiana [broad]
*  Death date:  1901 [broad]
*  Death place:  Danville, Vermillion, Illinois [broad]
*  Gender:  Male [broad]
*  Parents:  David Auble, Sarah Knapp
*  Siblings:  Frances Mary, Charles, Katherine, Anna Mattison, Cora A.
*  Spouse:  Mary Louise Thompson
*  Child:  Bessie

With those search terms, which are all "Broad" except for the last name, the applicable records found include (after a search through the top 150 of 25,523 results):

*  #1  Indiana Marriages, 1802-2001 - "William A Auble"
*  #2  1880 US Federal Census - "William A Auble"
*  #3  1850 US Federal Census - "William Auble"
*  #4  US Social Security Claims and Applications Index - "William A. Auble" {on Bessie Auble Pentecost's record]
*  #5  1860 US Federal Census - "Wm A Auble"

The City Directory records on the list for Evanston, Illinois may be for this William A. Auble also - I know he resided in the Chicago area for some time, and then moved to Danville, Illinois where he died in about 1901, before his wife married again in 1901.

In addition, there is a Result for a number of Ancestry Member Trees at the top of the list.  I clicked the "See more like this" link and saw:

What?  It should have found three trees, including one of mine.  Another glitch, I guess.  Maybe it's not repeatable.

The point of this is to illustrate why I prefer search number 3 - the search from within my Ancestry Member Tree:

*  I didn't have to enter anything in a search field, or select slider positions; the tree autofilled in the search fields for me. 

*  The records it found for this person with one click were the best Results; it put them right at the top of the Results list, unlike the other two methods.  

A critic might say, "well, if you had added the parents, spouse and child to your #1 search, the results might have been different."  Yes, they might have been.  But I don't think most researchers add all of that information on their initial search.

Why didn't the Ancestry Hints and Suggested Records find all of the records?  It missed the Marriage record.  We have been told that the Hints come from the top 10% of the record collections (listed by number of records).  Apparently, that marriage collection is not in the Top 10% (which is actually about 3,270 records).  So you can't trust "just" the Hints and Suggested Records.

How do you search for a person on Ancestry, assuming you know at least a name, birth year and birth state?  Tell me in Comments.


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