Ask Ancestry Anne: How Do I Find Trees?

Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on July 2, 2015 in Ask Ancestry Anne

Question: Are there any plans to update searching for specific public trees? —Phyllis

searchformAnswer: Last month I answered a question about using and trusting other trees you find on Ancestry, which led to a lively debate to say the least!   And I’d like to suggest another article that might shed some more light on the subject: Perils of Being a Source Snob, by Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL.

But how do you find trees that have your people in them?  While there are no plans to update tree searching at this time, with a few simple techniques, you can manage your results and find trees you want to examine further.

You’ll want to start with Public Member Trees (you can find a link in the Card Catalog).  Before you start searching any data collection you want to examine the search page and see what is on the search form.

To search trees effectively you need the name of the person you are searching for, at least one location, a date, and a spouse and/or parents.  If you don’t have all of those details, try with what you do have.  But in this case, the more information you have, the better.

Let’s try searching for a reasonably common name: James Donald.  If I type just James Donald into the form, I get over 200,000 results.  Way too many.


I’m going to add in wife’s name and birth date and birth location.  Now I have a little over 35,000 results.  Still too many to look at, but because I’ve supplied more info, I can start scanning the first page or two.



And by updating my filters I can reduce the results even more.  For first name, I select: sounds like, similar, and initials; for last name, sounds like and similar; for birth year, +/- 5 years; and exact for the birth state.  Note: I recommend starting with exact at the state level and only moving to county if you get too many results.  A lot of people know only the state.

Now I have 69 results, and that is probably a list I can examine.  If you want fewer, tighten up your filters. If you want more or aren’t getting results, make them broader.


And just because someone has a lot of sources doesn’t mean they are right, and not having any doesn’t make them wrong.  Always look at the tree and evaluate the sources and information for yourself.  You may just find the clue you need to break down your brick wall.

If you are looking for more search tips to help you get the most out of Ancestry, check out my latest class at Ancestry Academy: Seek and Ye Shall Find: Become an Ancestry Search Expert. It’s free for anyone to view; all you need is to be a registered quest or subscriber on Ancestry.

Do you have a question that you would like to see answered?  We can’t get to all of them, but yours might be selected! Send your question to Ask Ancestry Anne, and you might be featured in an upcoming column.

Happy searching!





Past Articles

Two sisters kept and two brothers given away. Heart breaking stories on tonight’s Long Lost Family.

Posted by Brian Gallagher on July 1, 2015 in Long Lost Family, Research, Stories, United Kingdom

It’s the penultimate episode of Long Lost Family tonight and it promises to be an emotional one. The Long Lost Family team feature the stories of two sisters who were kept while their brothers were given up for adoption, a family split by the decision to give up a child fifty years ago, and a… Read more

ABC’s of Commonly Used Nicknames Guide (A-Z)

Posted by Jessica Murray on June 29, 2015 in Research Helps

Over the last few months, we ran a series of blog posts that highlighted nicknames or alternate first names your ancestors may have used.  Whether you’re just beginning or a veteran in your family history research, we’ve all come across at least one ancestor referred to by a nickname in a public record. Before you… Read more

Understanding Your Privacy Settings

Posted by Ancestry Team on June 26, 2015 in Site

At Ancestry, we value and respect our customers’ privacy and we have standards in place to protect the integrity of the data our customers entrust to us. So, we want to be clear about a policy change we are making. As of today, we are updating our privacy statement to clarify what information we may… Read more

AncestryDNA – The Viking in the room

Posted by Mike Mulligan on June 23, 2015 in AncestryDNA, United Kingdom

At genealogy conferences I’ve spoken about AncestryDNA genetic ethnicity estimates. When the topic of Scandinavian ethnicity comes up, there tends to be an elephant in the room, or more accurately a Viking. At some point I invariably get asked by someone if having Scandinavian genetic ethnicity in their estimate means they are descended from Vikings.… Read more