Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Stack of books and magnifying glass isolated on white background

Use our suggestions to track down missing ancestors and get more from your Ancestry searches.

1. Focused searching

Searching all our records at once is extremely powerful, but it can give you too many search results. Consider searching categories, such as census or military records. Or if you know where and when you’re looking for your ancestors, you can often search within particular record collections.

2. Recent collections

On our main search page, look for ‘Recently viewed collections’ in the top-right corner. These links will take you straight back to the record collections you last looked at.

3. Recent searches

Slightly further down the page, on the left, you’ll find ‘Recent Searches’. This provides a list of the ancestors you last searched for – click on them to go straight back to your search results.

4. Local records

At the bottom of the main search page are maps of Australia & NZ, the UK, USA, Canada and more. Click within the map to see lists of record collections for any country. You can then use the options on the right to see just the collections for a particular county.

5. Find more records

We’ve created pages for each of our main categories to help you find more useful records. For example, our Census and Voter page includes links to all our census and electoral collections – as well as help for using those records.

6. Card Catalogue

For a wider view, use the Card Catalogue – you’ll find this at the bottom of the Search menu at the top of the screen. This lets you see all the record collections across our whole site, and filter them by category, location and date.

7. New releases

We’re constantly adding record collections, so there are always new opportunities to find your family. Stay up-to-date with our latest releases here. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest content releases.

8. Exact matches

The ‘Match all terms exactly’ option can be useful in narrowing down your results. However, be careful as this will exclude any records that don’t include all the information in your search – for example, many records don’t have a death date.

9. Alternative names

Names were often spelt differently in the past, so use the options under the ‘First Name’ and ‘Last Name’ boxes to include alternatives. However, also take the time to search for other possibilities yourself (for example Owen and Owens), as this can be more effective.

10. Wildcard searches

You can also look for different spellings using wildcard characters. Use an * if there are several letters you’re not sure of (‘Rob*son will look for Robinson and Robertson) or a ? for a single letter (Sm?th for Smith and Smyth).

11. Nearby counties

You’ll often find that your ancestors moved across county borders. You can use the advanced options under any Location box to focus your search on the county that you entered, plus any bordering counties.

12. Family members

There are many James Olivers in our records, but far fewer who were married to ladies named Charlotte, and fewer still with sons named Frank. Use the ‘Family Member’ options to include other relatives in your search.

13. Lateral thinking

Another option is to simply search for a different person in the same household. Perhaps you can’t find James Oliver? Try searching for wife Charlotte or other family members with more unusual names, and see if you can spot James elsewhere on the record.

14. Collection Priority

The ‘Collection Priority’ option lets you focus on different parts of the world. Perhaps your greatuncle ran away to America? Switch the collection priority to United States to view mainly American records, and tick ‘Show only records from these collections’ if you don’t want to see anything else.

15. Browsing records

When you’re searching within individual record collections, you’ll often see options to ‘Browse this collection’ on the right. These let you choose a particular place and time period, and read through the records as though you were reading a book – they’re particularly useful with parish records.

16. Result views

There are two ways of viewing your results. – switch between them using the ‘View’ option in the top-right. ‘Sorted by relevance’ presents each individual record with the closest matches at the top; ‘Summarized by category’ groups your results together, so you can see what categories and collections they come from.

17. Edit Search

If you’ve made a mistake, or you want to try a slightly different search, you don’t need to go back to the search page. Just click ‘Edit Search’ in the top-left, change anything you want, and then click ‘Search’.

18. Narrow by Category

Perhaps you’re only interested in census records or travel records? You can easily filter your results by selecting one of the options under ‘Narrow by category’. You’ll then see more filter options, such as date ranges or sub-categories.

19. Record preview

If you keep clicking on all your results, it can take a long time to check which ones relate to your family. Instead, just hover over a result to see a quick preview of the most important information.

20. Hot Keys

You can use keyboard shortcuts to move through your results more quickly. For example, pressing ‘r’ will let you edit your search, while ‘p’ brings up a preview of the record you’ve selected.

Share your top search tip below.



  1. I am not a real computerhead so all these tips and also the messages I get in my inbox are very helpful I have located information on people that even their families could not tell me I get confused switching from family branch to branch thanks and keep the tips coming please.

  2. Helen hodges

    Thank you so much , this page with search hints will be invaluable and help keep me focused to search one family at a time…I’m having trouble finding my grandfathers origins…Smith from Surrey, England??

  3. I was adopted but have been unable to find out when my birth father died. Name CHARLES DAVID HOOPER born 1886 in Huntspill Somerset UK. He emigrated to Canada (not sure of year) but he married my mother NORA GLADYS EDWARDS (born April 1896) on July 1, 1926 in ALgoma District Ontario. I was born in November 1927 in Norwich Norfolk UK – unable to find out if she returned on her own or with C D Hooper. I think my mother died in Ilford UK in December 1942. I never met her as she (I assume) agreed to me being adopted by Minnie Edith Drackett-Case. Don’t think it went through Court, so probably a private transaction. My adopted Mum was single, but I could not have had a better Mum. She also adopted 6 singles in all – must have had some money as I think she came from a good family in Norwich. All that is not important to you, but it is to me obviously. My query – Did my father stay in Canada or return to the UK??
    I have tried to find out if and when he did return to the UK too, but he seems to have disappeard in thin air!!
    Don’t know if you can help me. Thanks Margaret.

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