A more powerful way to search

Posted by Kendall on December 28, 2007 in Site, Searching for Records

Kendall HuletThank you all for your great feedback and comments on my last post. I want to address the topics you’ve raised one by one over the next few weeks. I have to start somewhere, so today I’ll address the desire for a more powerful way to search that reduces irrelevant results. Here are a few of the comments I’ve received from you in this regard:

  • Dale writes: “I am searching for a rare surname, ENEVER. It is frequently misspelt… When I do an exact search I only get a fraction of the responses I know are out there. When I do a non-exact search I get over 10,000 results…”
  • Terri writes: “… it is frustrating to have so many hits come back when I’m looking for something pretty specific.”
  • Lauri writes: “… When I say that I’m looking for someone who died in 1852 and the first person on the list is born in 1945 and the rest of the search result looks like it is in random order, I call that a VERY poor search function.”
  • Diane writes: “Am echoing earlier comments but only so you know how many of us want the same basic search features: Ability to restrict a search to a specific locale yet without the exact name. Example: I know the person was in Spokane in 1920 but don’t find with exact name match (name is typically spelled incorrectly). If I do a non-exact name search, I get all the US and it’s painful to narrow to Spokane. “
  • Melody writes: “…when I do a general search for people who lived and died in NC in a certain time period, I get records for people who lived everywhere, and in any year. Sometimes I’m forced to do an exact search because it’s the only way I can find something (if it’s spelled correctly). There are too many records when I do a general search.”

The Answer – Ancestry’s Advanced Search

As a budding genealogist, I too find that sometimes our search engine can return too many matches that seem to be irrelevant to the information I typed in. In fact, I heard that comment frequently enough from customers like you, that we completed a project some time ago that I believe addresses a lot of these issues – Ancestry’s Advanced Search.

Here’s what it looks like:


Advanced Search allows you to mark, on a field-by-field basis, what items you’d like to require to match exactly and what ones you don’t mind getting a “fuzzy” match on. This lets you, for example, do a fuzzy search for the name (to find alternate spellings) while forcing the birth year to exactly match a specific year or year range or forcing a birth location to exactly match a state or county.

That sounds good, but why would I want to find a “fuzzy” match?

This is a big question – we’ll start with names, then take on dates and places. As you may already know, names are often misspelled or mis-transcribed on historical documents. Even though you know great-grandfather’s given name was Ebenezer, there are countless ways Ebenezer may have been spelled and/or abbreviated on old records. Surnames can be even trickier because they can often change over time. For example, my last name “Hulet” was spelled “Howlett” as little as 200 years ago. Here are a few of the reasons names can be tricky:

  • Spelling of the name “evolved”, often when a family member immigrated (In some cases, names are even translated directly from one language to another – example: “Zimmerman” in German could be “Carpenter” in English)
  • A nickname is used (Did you know that “Polly” is a common nickname for “Mary” or that “Peggy” is a nickname for “Margaret”? These aren’t very intuitive because they sound very different from one another.)
  • A name is abbreviated (“Charles” could easily have been written as “Chas.”, “Ch” or “C” on an old document)
  • An ancestor may have spoken in a heavy accent or may have been illiterate so that a census-taker or immigration officer had to spell the name out phonetically
  • The person who copied down the information from the original ledger (often the originals were discarded in favor of copies written by a scribe with nice penmanship) may have not been able to read the original or may have copied it down incorrectly
  • Similarly, the person who typed the information into the electronic index may have not been able to read the original or may have typed it incorrectly

So what is one to do?? Luckily, this is where Ancestry’s search engine can be a real help. We use several techniques to find “fuzzy” matches for names. First, we have a “name authority” of alternate spellings for thousands of names that our search engine automatically looks for when you do a search. For fun, I poked around at our name authority for the name Timothy Sullivan (our CEO) and here’s what I found:

  • “Timothy” had over 50 possible spellings in our list, including “Tim”, “Timothee”, “Timmy”, “Timmothy”, “Temothie” and “Timothe” just to name a few
  • “Sullivan” had over 30 possible spellings in our list, including “Sulaven”, “Sullavin”, “Sullevan”, “Sulavin” and “Sullyvan”

In addition to the name authority, we also look for abbreviations of given names. We also use a phonetic algorithm called “Soundex” to do even more “fuzzy” matching on surnames (and we’re considering adding it to given names, too).

Could you imagine trying to think of all of the variations of the given name and surname, let alone trying to search each one? That’s an awful lot of searching ~ it would take over 2,000 manual searches, in fact, to search each unique combination of name variations. And Ancestry’s search engine will do all of those combinations for you in the blink of an eye on every search that you do that doesn’t mark the given name(s) and surname(s) as exact.

So that covers names. Dates and places are a bit more simple. Dates can be wrong for a number of reasons: many people lied about their ages (in one case that my colleague Lou Szucs identified, a woman in the US Federal Census aged only 12 years over a 30-year period!), sometimes the forms required people to round to the nearest five or ten-year increment, etc. Places can be wrong for a number of reasons as well: an unknown move or temporary relocation, an ancestor may have lived with another family or as a domestic servant or apprentice somewhere, etc.

Our fuzzy matching on dates basically looks for the years closest to the date you entered and scores them higher than records with years that are further away (all other things being equal). We don’t do a lot of fuzzy matching on places yet, but that is something we’re excited about pursuing in the future to make the search engine better.

To sum it up

Advanced Search gives you the power to easily specify which elements of your search you’d like to be “exact” (meaning that they must be both included on the resulting record AND match exactly as you’ve specified) and what you’d like to be “fuzzy”. This gives you power and flexibility to get exactly the type of matches you’re looking for–fuzzy enough to find the right records, but exact enough not to have to wade through so many matches that are less relevant.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.


1 George B. LewisDecember 28, 2007 at 7:38 pm

It took quite a while to find my ancestors on a census. they were from
Scotland and they did not
pronounce the “H” in Heaton.
I found them in EATONS.

2 MelodyDecember 28, 2007 at 9:13 pm

Thank you!! I’ve been waiting for a better way to search for quite a while. I’ve been playing around with it and just tonight, I finally found my grandmother and great grandmother! I even found some records on my grandmother that I didn’t find before. Great job!

3 JohnDecember 29, 2007 at 6:49 am

I agree that the advanced search helps but IMO you still get a lot of results that are non related to the search. I’ve used this feature extensively since you put it up and it still needs some work. I can get thousands of results and they still don’t seem to follow any search pattern.

4 BevDecember 29, 2007 at 1:21 pm

I’ve been using the advanced search but it still brings back many irrelevant search results. I would like to see some options like I’ve seen on or on your labs site where you can filter on specific criteria to view subsets of the results AFTER the initial search is complete. Your only filter is on “number of matches”. I’ve had searches where 2 stars brings back thousands of records and 3 stars finds nothing. That’s very frustrating.

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6 FranDecember 31, 2007 at 5:09 pm

How do you use the advance search function when you are searching from within FTM. Sometimes, I have had difficulty in finding the person or family I am looking for when after finding it on I then go to FTM and have difficulty in getting the same results so I can easily merge it to my FTM files. There is limited specificity allowed in searches from within the program.

Also it would be nice to be able to search a specific community for a family using a single letter. It took me forever to find the Harty family in a very small town in the 1920 census. If I had been able to search on the letter H, I would have been able to get a small number households and find the individuals I wanted. I knew they were there and I do not recall what I did to finally find them, but it took me several days.

7 rcDecember 31, 2007 at 8:58 pm

1. Get rid of 1-5 star relv.
system as worthless. Search, e.g., “rensselaer bailey” on
stories and pubs. A family
genealogy by one of his dau.s (…Durand, Whalley,
Barnes and Yale Families…,
Frances Bailey Hewitt) which should be worth 5 stars, has 2 stars along with a fair no. of other 2 starred items absolutely worthless as to
this individual.
2. Another feature, the “viewing 1-50, etc. top of each search results
page is of no value without
at least an estimate of the
total number of hits one has to face. Of what value is the news that there are 50 items on a particular page?

8 rcJanuary 3, 2008 at 7:29 pm

SEARCHING: Your search mechanism is not good.
a. There often seems little connection between the stars and the results.
b. The usual oversupply of
hits is made even less agreeable by the rel. large
print and space between words. The searcher is thus
confronted with too much air
in the conversation.
c. Also, the letter size and spacing makes scrolling a real chore, not good for carpal tunnel. That, coupled
with the often seemingly unending list of irrelevant sources results in one beginning to despair of finding anything at all, thus becoming soured on the new setup and firing off messages such as this.
One can’t go back, but one longs for the crispness, compactness and results achieved by the old system.

9 rcJanuary 4, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Personal trees should be last
in “Family Trees.” Why waste
time scrolling through these when the search object might be found in accessible trees?
If nothing is found, then one
can decide if the contact ritual is worthwhile.

10 Deborah SweetJanuary 4, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Sorry, but you are dreaming. Your “Advanced Search” yields either too many completely unrelated people, places or dates, or NONE at all. It seems the MORE info you are able to enter, even well-documented info, btw, the LESS hits you get.
I’ve been doing Genealogy Searches for over 30 years, and IMO, Ancestry needs to do a lot more SIMPLIFYING of its search engines.
My Pet Peeve is the OWT garbage. Once again, just today, I found my information, which I KNOW without doubt to be correct, has been chopped up and spit out so that it reads completely WRONG. Further, I am sick to death of receiving hopeful messages from people who think I can help them with someone who is not nor ever has been in my data. Conversely, I am also sick to death of receiving curt e-mails from people accusing me of having false information in my database. I am tired of having to explain to people that 1. I have no such person, and 2, that Complaints to Ancestry fall on deaf ears. All they tell me when I complain is that I should make the necessary corrections. Excuse me, but they weren’t wrong to begin with until this OWT was invented, so why should I have to go back and correct your mistakes? Do you have any idea of the thousands of people in my database? I have neither the time nor inclination to check every one of them for OWT accuracy. And apparently I CAN’T make changes in the OWT even if I wanted to, as I have tried without success. Its ability to allow someone to make changes is VERY limited. So much for Ancestry search engines.
Really – even when I enter specific info in any of your search engines, which can ONLY fit the person in mind, that person almost never returns in the hits I get. I’ve tested the system deliberately and repeatedly.
I’ve been a loyal customer of for over 10 years, mainly for the census info, but for all the databases it holds. However this OWT and search engine problems are a real turn-off.

11 David LawsonJanuary 6, 2008 at 3:07 pm

It is difficult to state just how much I agree with the discerning feedback by Deborah Sweet! Commonly today people say stupid things like 110% but in my case 100% will do well. I have spent many hours on the telephone and through email working with Ancestry staff (Matthew Pinkston to be precise) and a member of staff in the London office. Both were as horrified as I when I proved to them they couldn’t even trace themselves through Ancestry search engines! The main problem is that whoever created the facility was completely unaware of the nature of true research and thus, hierarchical searching of databases. Here’s an example:
I am David Lawson and my mother was Ethel Lawson. She didn’t marry until 1919 so prior to that her name was Jennings. When I search from the tree itself (Search for Historical Records link) the system puts my actual data held for her in a little box. One would assume that is the base information upon which the search engine is operating. NOT SO. The results (2000 of them!) bring up every Lawson in the world! But her name was not Lawson at birth and I am searching for a birth name! Needless to say every variation of Jennings is there also even with added middle names and wrong initals – but get this – she isn’t. Go to any other database outside of Ancestry and I get a hit first time every time. Go figure! Every single person I know who is using Ancestry claims the search facilities are a total joke.
Kendall, I love your enthusiasm, and without exception I find all the Ancestry staff lovely helpful people. But your suggestion to use the Advanced Search makes little difference. You see if you have 20 sacks of rubbish sitting on your driveway awaiting collection and you have mistakenly put a bag of good stuff among them it is likely you will still have to go through many of them before you retrieve the one you want to rescue! Do I need to translate that allegory? Well simply if the construction of the search engine is faulty it will engender faults. If the data held is in random format it will be coughed out in random format. GIGO comes to mind – Garbage in Garbage out. If Ancestry would kindly sort out the garbage we innocent spenders of great amounts of money would be eternally grateful!
Oh and whoever thought up OWT system should be cast to bottom of the deepest ocean never to contaminate our years and years of really hard work (I am back to 1610 with proved data and some conjectured stuff for the previous 2 centuries) and I don’t want to be told I have a match in another tree only to find it is my own!

12 Bob ScottJanuary 10, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Since I can’t seem to find a place that fits my subject, ancestry needs to do something to provide ways to fix large-scale errors in census transcriptions. The system works fine for fixing a name at a time.

The biggest example is in the 1850 U.S. Census in which the people doing the transcription did not understand that IA was not an abbreviation for Iowa. It was an abbreviation for Indiana until the two-letter abbreviations were introduced by the twentieth century.

The result is that if you search Indiana in 1850 for people born in Iowa, it shows 116,283. Iowa was not abbreviated in those days. It was spelled out. This happens on other censuses, but not to this extent.

Another goody is reading Ken. as Kenya instead of Kentucky. The 1860 census shows 1,592 residents in Alabama coming from a country that didn’t exist.

A little more understandable is the 1860 census in which Ind. was read as India and there were 9,022 of these folks, largely in the south. In some cases, these do look like Indian–but if you have good supervision, you don’t make this mistake.

In 1870, there were 27,984 from India and to be fair–some times Indiana was getting to be abbreviated as India. But I don’t think a bunch of people named McCauley in 1870 Alabama were likely from the subcontinent.
The 1870 census is down to 908 Kenyans, almost all who are shown as white.
By 1880, we have no Kenyans in the country and a small enough number of Indians to suspect they really were people born in India.

In 1900, it’s back to 17,583 from India–most again in the South–and these are clearly marked “Ind” for place of birth. There are 460 Kenyans–most of whom are born in “Ken”

In 1910, there are 13,284 from Indians–a lot in Alabama.

Geographical errors.
1. The 1830 Census for Jefferson County Indiana shows transcribes virtually all of the county residents as living in Lancaster Township.In fact, only the first two pages are for Lancaster Township. The rest of the census pages are clearly marked “Jefferson County Exclusive of Lancaster Township.”
2. The 1840 Switzerland County census lists Collon as a township. The name is Cotton Township and you’ll find that quite clearly on all maps.

3. The 1830 Kentucky census shows Louisville as being in Hopkins County, instead of Jefferson.

13 Sammy SimmonsJanuary 10, 2008 at 10:45 pm

I am fairly new to geneaology research,but I have found that the Advanced Search is a real help when searching for info. Several times Ihave been unable to find the person I am looking for on the reguler search engine, but when using the Advanced Search I can find it almost every time. One thing I find annoying is when I am looking for someone using the census, then when I switch over to Birth, Marriage and Death record I get a line of people that is not even anywhere near to the ones I am looking for. Sometimes I can go back and find where I have made a mistake in what I have entered, but this is not the case every time. It seems that something is not switching to the right info. Otherwise the Advanced Search has been a great advantage for me. Thanks for listening.

14 carolineJanuary 12, 2008 at 4:43 pm

hi. i am trying to find my dad his name is gordon douglas i know he is trying to find me aswell so how do i go about this i havent seen him in 29 years when i was conceived he lived in armagh please can u help me track him down thank u.

15 Carol YocomJanuary 13, 2008 at 8:39 am

I find it frustrating to not be able to search for an unknown in the first three letters. That’s where the spelling mistakes for most of my family names are located. If I can search on the last 4 letters and specify that the first 3 are unknown, it would help a lot. To save the servers, I understand that the search would have to be restricted in size — maybe to states or even counties.

I have fairly good success with most of the searches I do and have no complaint.

I would like to have better ways to report errors in geography and resource labeling (as above mentioned) and gross errors in census transcription. Pointing out a spelling error is fairly useless when the transcriber scrambled two different families together and completely skipped over a third.

16 Kathleen OsnoeJanuary 14, 2008 at 2:32 pm

I am looking for information on Bertha Mae Lint (lent) who married William Cyphers, Bertha is from Native American decent and lived for a time at Swangunk Reservation in New York ( along the Hudson ) a son Clanence was born at Swagunk. please contact me. thank you

17 bobwscottJanuary 14, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Ancestry needs a method for posting corrections to errors made in geography.

The Ancestry listings for Vermilion County, Ill., alternately spells the name with two “l”s and one “l”.

1850, 1870, 1880, 1910, 1920 and 1930 are spelled correctly

1860, 1900 are spelled incorrectly with two ls.

The biggest problem is that it make searching difficult if the county name is typed into the dialog box.

18 D BennettJanuary 14, 2008 at 10:34 pm

I haven’t found any way to report that for as long as they have been posted, the Dixon Evening Telegraph’s dates have been wrong in the larger database. It lists 1848, but the pages are clearly 1948.

19 Joseph HerreraJanuary 15, 2008 at 1:37 am

A lot of my ancestors have been in the southwest When there was no USA, or Mexico, it was all Nueva Espana. There are no listings for New Spain, Spain, or the New Mexico Territory.

20 Mary HamlyJanuary 15, 2008 at 1:50 am

I think it would be ‘awsome’ if we could sort the results pages/records according to which column is most important to us. If I pulled up the 1930 Census records to look for any McDonalds in New York, I want to be able to sort the list so the ‘estimated year of birth’ is the column that dominates. Or, then maybe decide that the column with ‘relation to head of house’ dominates (maybe have all daughters clustered together, regardless of names/ages). Or be able to sort the historic records advanced search results to cluster all the 1930′s US Censuses together, then showing the 1920′s, regardless of names/ages. Since so many records rely on the county the record is from, I want to ignore the county and look at the state, but am unable to sort the results. Basically, I don’t want the computer to sort according to IT’S priority. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and even have trouble w/ the Advanced Search picking and choosing the data it feels is most important. I finally found my gr gr gr grandmother’s burial information after pages and pages of reviewing search results, even though I knew her location and year of death. The ‘exact match’ boxes don’t work.
On another note…I still love this site! I’ve figured out the kinks, and after trial and error, have learned to ‘deal’ with the fact that I have to review MANY possible hits to find my ONE that I need. Thank you for asking for our feedback.

21 LindaJanuary 15, 2008 at 11:17 am

I agree with Mary Hamly’s comment. I would also love to prioritize my search fields. I have also enjoyed this web-site. I have found great sources from your search, advanced search, and your family tree pages. Even though some of the search results are broad, I have occasionally found records that were just what I was looking for in unexpected places. For example, the name might be misspelled, the individual might have moved or migrated to find work, family members were living with extended family members or were boarding with strangers, etc. The bottom-line in my comment is that I wouldn’t change the search options, I would add further controls. I think simply by prioritizing a search field, the searcher could first see records that were most relevant to their inquiry.

My only complaint with has more to do with not being able to share the research that I’ve done. I have tried multiple times to put my family tree on the website without success. I have tried the tutorial and I have contacted They were polite and friendly. I was told that there was technical errors, but no timeframe was given for expected completion of resolving the issue. Six months later, I still can not add my family tree and the hours of search results that could be of use to others. It’s unfortunate… but I will continue using the site for my own research.

Overall, I’m very happy and grateful for this website. It has made it possible for me to consistently work on Family History at my own convenience at home. I particularly love being able to see the original. I enjoy reading the additional information, and having the option to check for errors in the transcription.

22 Jim DavisJanuary 15, 2008 at 11:21 am

I absolutely agree with Mary about needing a sort option. Although I’ve tried very hard to understand the various default sort orders.. I think it depends so much upont what fields are being searched that it is impossible to figure out the logic.

Just as one example- tell me what sort order logic produces the first match on the following 5 entered fields to be at record number 856?-
Exact off. First Name “George”. Last Name “Davis”. Birth Year “1888″ (O range). Birth Country “USA, All States”. Spouse Given Name “Ollie”.

Selecting “Exact” for “Spouse Given” as the only change to the above gives… well, “exactly” the same result. Record 856 is the first match.

23 Jim DavisJanuary 15, 2008 at 11:31 am

Sorry.. typo. I meant a priority/sort option, as Linda mentioned, and also the ability to “jump” through groups of pages when needed.

24 Aaron TaylorJanuary 16, 2008 at 9:20 am

We need help or a better way to get information on slaves and slave names. How in the world did they get the information to make the movie Roots back in 1976. We are stuck, please give advise.

25 Fred PottsJanuary 17, 2008 at 12:27 am

It’s about time that you spent some time thinking about improving your search engine. I am so tired of looking for a John Smith born in 1763 in Virginia and your results list John Smiths born 150 years later in New York, burying the info I need in thousands of John Smiths, hundreds of Sam Smiths, etc., that any competent search engine would have eliminated.

26 CynthiaJanuary 17, 2008 at 1:28 am

Is there any chance you will be adding records from Mexico? I upgraded my membership only to find that there are no records for me to search.

27 Darrel R HagbergJanuary 17, 2008 at 8:01 am

When my search return thousands of hits, it would be nice to do a search within that search, not starting all over with a “refined” search.

28 BarbaraJanuary 17, 2008 at 8:02 am

When are you ever going to correct the WWII draft regisdtrations from Pennsylvania? Your site said it was aware of the problem over a year ago and that you were “fixing” it. You still have not done so. This is not very good servicing of your information.

29 JosieJanuary 17, 2008 at 11:11 am

All the the frills are nice but I’m a member to FIND family and not so much interested in displaying my tree in a pretty fashion. I’d like to see more New York City records included on Ancestry. Rural Georgia birth records or Montana cemetery records cannot possibly be relative to as many people at once as NYC records would be.

30 Deborah MontgomerieJanuary 17, 2008 at 11:58 am

Hi Kendall, I love it that Ancestry are adding more records, better searches etc. but really feel they need to tighten up in many areas before leaping ahead. One of my pet hates is that the transcribers don’t stop to read the census info correctly. The UK census info right now had so many errors in it it’s not true. Some of the searches I have done will NEVER pull up any info unless you work page by page. I have been doing extensive research for 25 years for myself and others and know many tricks to searching. However lately I am spending more and more time wading through stupid errors. I would like to suggest that all transcribers have an atlas on hand at least to check place names. And some of the surname transcriptions are just plain common sense but it seems as if some of the transcribers don’t think about what they are doing. Speed in putting new info on the site is understandable but if it is made up mumble jumbo what’s the point?
Hoping to see better transciptions in future,

31 CrystalJanuary 17, 2008 at 3:18 pm

I do not know when you changed your search page, but it is more cumbersome. Previously upon entering a name, you were given a list of places that name appeared, census, historical records, family trees, pubications. The user could choose which to look at without re-entering the name.

Now, you have to enter for historical records, again for trees, again for publications, etc. Bring back out lists! Ditch the stars!

32 GL JohnsonJanuary 17, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Just adding my desires for a better results return on any of your searches. I really don’t mind possible matches being included, but if you need to find a James Smith, ouch, THOUSANDS. Plus the variants of Jim, Jimmmy, J. D., etc.

I’ll be a bit specific.

How about a ‘filter’ on returned results. Similar to what excel has when you select a filter from the column.

All returned searches, and then let ME ‘filter’ on the EXACT values I’d like to see like birth, race, etc.

I believe someone else suggested a search with a search.. I’d like a filter within a search!

Thanks for listening.

33 Scott ShafferJanuary 18, 2008 at 12:26 am

I purchased a subscription for my parents, who are in their 70s, a year ago. Funny thing is, I’ve gotten hooked! I can get lost for hours researching.
What I would find helpful is some record indicating what research I’ve done for which relative. For example, a record indicating I’ve searched the 1860 and 1870 census for my paternal great grandmother. Often, I find myself following tangents without any real system or plan, and sometimes I find myself repeating research. I understand that revisiting a relative and my research is not a bad idea because new data becomes available, but I would still greatly value the record keeping.

34 Choice LeslieJanuary 18, 2008 at 7:22 pm

I agree that being able to sort the results columns and also to know how many records were returned would help. It seems like when KY. It is very difficult to find a woman’s maiden name. Is there a place to ask for help with research? Thank you

35 TeresaJanuary 19, 2008 at 12:50 pm

I enjoy and find it both useful and costeffective. However, there are three main things that could be improved upon -
(1) I wish would spend more time acquiring and indexing information and less time on the publishing, photos, and trying to get folks to “build” their trees on your site – much of the building is just appropriating poorly researched family trees with glaring errors – and it seems little is done to correct them after the fact.
You should really focus on the research aspect of your site.
(2) You still need to work on the advanced search – you have a ways to go to narrow clearly nonapplicable “hits” on searches – again a focus on research.
(3) Additionlly, you need to work with the “Shoebox” function, it is a filing cabinet for those of us who are working through our searches and/or do not want to “build” a tree on the site – it needs sorting features or some method to group found items that does not involve adding to a tree. It is quite difficult to move around in if you have a number of pages of hits.

36 Vicki KleinJanuary 20, 2008 at 8:54 am

I want to add my vote for a sort option. I feel this would be really useful, and have been asking for one for a while.

Also, I have to say that I find using the ‘exact matches only’ function to be much better than the newer search engine, as I can control the results better.

If possible, I would like to see you do something more than ‘Soundex’ about the ‘first three letter’ problem, and I have to tell you that due to past limitations, I have become very creative in my search strategies, and I almost always find a person. I will use wildcards, and have even been known to use very limited search terms like in a census: “Location: Clay Co. KY, Birthplace: North Carolina.”

Also, I still find the One World Tree database to be flawed. It continually attaches persons to my lines which I know cannot be correct. For instance, George W. Tackett’s father is still showing as Phillip Tackett; this George W. Tackett, father of Green, born ca 1780 in Tennessee or Virginia (census), had only one known wife, Sarah A., and his parentage is still unknown. The first ever known record for him is an 1820 census record in Lawrence County, Ohio.

On the same note, please, please, please do not discontinue the Ancestry World Tree database. I appreciate being able to collaborate with other researchers through this database. I know who is making the claims, and often what they are using to back them up, and if I need to contact them, the email address is there (and most times works).

That said, Ancestry is great, and I will continue my subscription.

37 LucasJanuary 25, 2008 at 2:25 am

The new search does seem to be much better at identifying matches. However, one thing I miss is the ability to tell at a glance which records are available to view. There used to be a lock icon next to the ones that required a subscription. Now I don’t know which ones I can or cannot see until I click and get either the record I wanted or the subscription page.

38 LucasJanuary 25, 2008 at 3:08 am

Ok, nevermind. I guess this has been fixed now.

39 Kevin LacyJanuary 26, 2008 at 11:46 pm

My issue has to do with how I use the search results page and generally how I surf the web. I like to leave the results page open and right click on a URL and select “Open in New Window”. This way I can see the next page and, if it’s not what I’m looking for, I can just close it and be back to the main page. The problem is that many of teh URLs on the results page are JavaScript links and it is impossible to open them in a different page. This forces me to click on the link and, if it’s not what I’m looking for, I have to click back. This may seem trivial to most but when you are seraching through several hundred results, it’s very easy to click the “X” in the top right corner, instead of hitting “back” and lost where you are in your search results. Then you have to do the search again. Maybe I’ll care less about this when the results pages are filtered better, but there is no reason why the URLs have to be JavaScript. If they do need to be, they can still be links that open in a new window so I can keep my results page in the background waiting for me to continue searching through it. Does this even make sense to you guys? I’m sure I could explain it better. Let me know.


40 Richard C WaiteJanuary 27, 2008 at 7:07 am

Type your comment here.

41 Richard C WaiteJanuary 27, 2008 at 7:09 am

My family is listed in a 1870 US Census as Weight which may have been what the enumerator “HEARD” but did not verify the spelling on the surname.

42 Vicki KleinJanuary 27, 2008 at 9:10 am

I’m wondering why on some of the databases you can’t search by certain specific search terms.

For instance, in the Wuerttemberg, Germany Emigration Index, when I search for the surname “Engler,” I get several results, some of the individuals having the birthplace “Lauffen.” But when I search “birthplace: Lauffen” as my only search term, I get no results.

In other databases I seem to be able to search this way; why are some set up to search secondary information, and some not?

43 Beth PanyJanuary 27, 2008 at 11:29 pm

I have no new suggestions – the comments so far cover my frustrations.
In order of importance, my initial wish list would be:

-have sortable results – let me ‘filter’ and sort by column;

-improve the search engine so I don’t get people born in 1940 when I’m looking for births in 1780 – even if it is the same name;

-don’t make me enter all my search data for each area again and again;

-tell me how many records meet the search criteria before starting the results list, if there are too many, I’ll restrict the search sometimes.

Thanks for asking for feedback – we certainly hope you are listening…

44 Francis CavendishJanuary 29, 2008 at 7:42 pm

I would like to tell you that I have found a big amount of information about the British presence in Peru during the nineteenth century.

I recommend visiting this website:

45 R. J. LuneburgFebruary 1, 2008 at 11:14 am

Lots of problems you didn’t have 5 years ago. I search for Kropf and get pages of Kirby.

46 Bob ScottFebruary 3, 2008 at 9:50 pm

I have to question the transcriptions of virtually all the Illinois Public Land records I have seen. I think Ancestry has made a substantial blunder.

Unless there’s a hidden decimal point that I can’t see on my computer, it seems clear that the reports of so many individuals buying thousands of acres for thousands of dollars from the U.S. government are wrong.

It seems clear that the acres and dollar amounts should be express in hundreds, not thousands.

For Example, the transcription of the Illinois land record shows Allen McKay as purchasing 8,000 acres in the E1/2 NE1/4 Section 33 Twp. 21 N Range 1 West of the third meridian on 12 Sept. 1831 ID No. 102741

The bureau of land management records show the patent on this same tract as follow
E½NE Section 33 21-N 1-W No 3rd PM in Logan County, Illinois. So the Illinois record probably reflected the initial claim and the BLM record the issuance of the patent, which is 5/30/1833 Document Nr.: 5504
Accession/Serial Nr.: IL0540__.381
BLM Serial Nr.: IL NO S/N

I also checked on for a Rezin Ricketts in both databses. The Illinois records show Rezin purchased 160,000 acres on 18 Feb. 1818

Examining the patent document image, he clearly was issued a patent for military service on a quarter section. Soldiers simply were not issued patents for 160,000 acres.

All of these dollar amounts and acreages need a decimal. Rezin patented 160 acres which is the same quarter section shown in both databases.

Allen McKay was shown as paying $10,000 for 80,000, which clearly should have been $100 for 80 acres.

47 DanaFebruary 14, 2008 at 7:40 am

I have to agree with everyone else. Even when supplied with specific information that should NOT be fuzzy. The hits for totally irrelevent information is astounding.

R (fuzzy because of the variations in the spelling of Rossine) Weiss (left fuzzy because I have found it spelled as Wise) Born 1864 (+ – 2 years) immigration year 1880 (exact)

will return Carol Weissmuller Born 1920 immigration 1956

HOW? With a birth range of 1862-1866 and an exact immigration year of 1880 do I get those results?

It really is frustrating to say the least. especially when Carol gets a higher score than Rosine Weiss born 1864 immigrated 1880 (whom I’m pretty sure is who I was searching for -nothing else to confirm it yet)

It seems to me the filter offered is not actually in use.

My rant :)

In other areas even with mis-spellings in transcriptions and enumerator mistakes (transposed letters and on occasssion gender- my husbands grandfather was listed as female LOL) I have been able to find info I have needed and have even found a missing generation. 3 generations of John or James occur frequently in my research and can make things difficult enough without the added problems of inoperable filters.

It is a help, just not without it’s own set of problems.

I also agree with being able to open a link in a seperate window as being a helpful tool. I’ve quit searches due to having lost my place after taking forever to get there to begin with.

48 Joan BrownFebruary 14, 2008 at 8:52 am

I agree with Fred Potts. I would prefer more search type things. I am not at all interested in creating an online family tree.

49 FranFebruary 14, 2008 at 9:44 am

It is beyond me why when I make specific request for newspaper articles between specific years I get mostly newspapers outside the range requested. My relatives were in politics and I know what years I am looking for. I am not interested at that point in information that does not occur within the time frame listed. I am not interested in 1000s of hits, I want only information with in the time frame listed. If I wanted more information, I would be less specific.

The same is true for other searches as well. When I request a specific location I am serious about that location. Is there a way that we could indicate that all information outside a specific criteria should be excluded for the search.

While sometimes a global search is helpful, at certain times we want to search on specific parameters and are NOT interested in people that do not meet that criteria. It seems to me it should be simple to do. Why should I have to wade through people born 100 years later than the person I want? I do NOT put limits in the data unless I am interested in those limits.

50 Bettye HeinrichFebruary 14, 2008 at 12:41 pm has the absolute WORSE search system. You can enter the exact information and the response most often has NOTHING to do with what you are seeking. This happens so frequently that it is disgusting. For instance, on one of my searches I entered the yr and place of birth and death. The results was a census record many years after the death date, etc. I searched the Immigration list for a specific O’Reilly name giving birth year, year of arrival in USA, etc. The posted result showed O’ Connor and O’Malley as lower quality matches that I may have missed. Baloney, wouldn’t know a quality match if it was sent to them via fax.

51 MillieFebruary 14, 2008 at 2:31 pm

I agree with a lot of the posters on things that need to be changed ~~ especially when looking for a person in specific area and not being able to find them. Ex: Looked for my grandparents in the 1930 Census in Phila. and did not find them until I clicked on another persons nme in the Phila. area and then clicked on DISTRICT and then had to go page by page in the different Wards and Districts and FINALLY found them by doing that.

52 MillieFebruary 14, 2008 at 2:37 pm

Also, when is Ancestry going to post more records and info in the Philadelphia area. For such a city with early beginnings you thonk they would have more info like they do for Mass.,Il., N.C.etc. Cannot understand how they select their data!

53 MillieFebruary 14, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Also, when is Ancestry going to post more records and info for the Philadelphia area. For a city with such early beginnings you’d think they would have more info like they do for Mass.,Il., N.C.etc. Cannot understand how they select their data!

54 George HartFebruary 15, 2008 at 2:02 pm

I have just read what 10 Deborah Sweet wrote, I think she is right about the advanced search comment’s but it seem’s to me she should take up another hobbie, is she related to victor meldew, because I can’t believe how much she can moan!!! god bless her husband if she still has or has ever had one, because he should get a medal, oh Deb’s GET A LIFE

55 DONNA ROUGHTONFebruary 15, 2008 at 6:00 pm


56 Teresa MalloryFebruary 15, 2008 at 8:23 pm

I’m trying to find records for A O Mallory #352 Choctaw. This is dealing with a Freedman’s bank record. if so, contact me at my e-mail. thanks

57 SaraFebruary 18, 2008 at 5:36 am

I would like to see a ‘soundex’ for given names. If I am searching for Margaret Smith, and this name in a census is transcribed as Margret Smith, it won’t appear in the list.

Also, my lineage includes a great deal of Johnson and Johnston surnames. Johnson seems to be linked with Jenkins, and not Johnston. So using soundex gives me way to many useless entries to go over. It should be linked only to Jonson, Johnsen etc.
Thanks for any consideration you can give to this.

58 Barbara ThompsonFebruary 18, 2008 at 6:04 am

First time to read the blogs and what an eye opener about searching.I had attributed my problems to “not knowing much” but now I read they seem to be fairly common especially with Exact search. Glad to know it is not just me.

59 SHIRLEY BAKER GREENBERGFebruary 19, 2008 at 1:20 pm

My g-father’s name was GEORGE HENRY BALANGER, MY G-MOTHER’S NAME WAS CELINA BOULE. They moved to schenectady, NY in 1912 or 1913, my father was born in 1913. In the 1930′s the town hall in Schenectady was burnt down to the ground!! All I have is his baptismal certificate from a French church, a cousin of his tried to track all this down, and hit a dead end. His g-mother was Cherokee res. born outside of Montreal.

60 Colleen ReepFebruary 21, 2008 at 1:26 pm

I’ve sent search limitation perimeter requests in the past with the Advanced Search response feature. Why can’t screen out sex and “way random” date inclusions? If on applicable advanced screens I could ask it to eliminate by male/female, race, etc. it would really be helpful. Also, there needs to be a simple access list to search specific data bases. When I need to search the 1841 British Census it is like pulling teeth to find it, much less something closer to home like California birth records. The only way I have been able to do that is to go out of the system to Vital Search or go through 1,000s of possible mismatches through

With all this said, you have a wonderful website and I spend far too much time using it as it is. I especially like how quickly your teams respond to document clarification/corrections. However, simplification of returning data would speed my life and make my family happier campers.

61 ELLEN HOGANFebruary 24, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I am looking for my father’s ancestors. He was born in Culpepper.VA.He is I think of the Arapaho Indian tribe and he also lived or was raised in Old Rappaho County.He had a brother named Frank and two sisters, Mary and Josie or Joseph. I believe they migrated to upstate NY but I don’t know when. I hope you can help me. His full name was George D. Haney, and they always called him Dan.My name is Ellen (Haney)Hogan.

62 Judy PfaffMarch 7, 2008 at 10:08 pm

I have been using Census search by location to find people I know were there, but do not come up on the general search. It is really painful to go through 60 or more pages of a township to find someone. It would really be handy to do a search within the search. Get all of a surnames within the township sorted, sort by street, be able to jump several pages and even sort on first names of individuals. I have found indexing mistakes, but also census taker mistakes. One census taker listed everyone in the household by the head of household’s middle name. I would not have found this if I didn’t persist and go page by page through the entire township.

63 ShariMarch 9, 2008 at 11:59 pm

I have had a bit of sucess with ancestry but I do have some issues. First of all, when I switch over to Births, deaths, marriages from the all screen they are all mixed up. You have obits-marriages-births-death records but not sectioned off. Isn’t there a way to group them without having to go through thousands of useless info for a wedding date?

I also have a quite extensive amount of data in your data base and just bought the Ancestry Family Tree Maker. Is there a way I can just down load the info into the tree maker without having to re-input months of work?

64 Robert L. EschMarch 12, 2008 at 11:19 am

I had been looking for Belle Klinsman, and then by accident when searching her uncle, William Esch(ESH), I found the name Isabel Clinsman included in the 1870 census for Brush Valley, Indiana, PA. She was listed as being 16 (the right age)as a domestic servant, born in PA, and with a foreign born father. The name Clinsman was mangled and her given name Isabel was also mangled by the enumerator, so I wanted to correct the misspelling. However, for the older census reports, there is no “household page”, so I would need to first determine how she might be indexed by the transcriber. My first attempt was to do a search for Isabel _____, since I was sure that the name Clinsman (or Klinsman) would not get me to her. This brought no hits, even though I knew she was listed on page 2 of the census. Finally, I began searches on variants of her given name, and when I got around to Isa* I found that she had been indexed as Isabe Carioman (a real stretch). But finally I was able to correct the misspelling, and add her record to my Ancestry Tree. I, too, hope that Ancestry’s search “engine” is improved, so that researchers can spend less time paging through thousands of unrelated documents, and focus on more important matters. In a related search, I looked for her brother William H. Klinsman, and found him in every census for Johnstown Ward 19, Cambria, PA except for 1910. When I searched that census, I discovered that there were 5 missing images at Ancestry. I knew he should be there, but when I contacted someone at Ancestry about the missing images, I got the reply “Perhaps the images had been destroyed”. I then contacted Cambria County Library, asking whether they had a copies of the missing pages 11,16,20,30,32. They sent me a letter a couple of weeks ago, for the missing Image 16. They had obtained the page through their subscription to the Heritage Quest database. Page 16 had the information I was seeking. I then e-mailed Ancestry to let them know about this source, and even volunteered to let them use my copy of that missing page. So far I have had no reply. I wish their staff were more responsive to genuine offers of help.

65 DavidMarch 25, 2008 at 1:18 pm

I’ve submitted calls to Ancestry help concerning the search engine’s inability to use the Country name selected for searches to no avail. All I get is; “What did you really mean?”, and when I respond, I get no further followup, or answers.
For Example; when I search for a surname in the Historical records section, and also select “USA” as a country, it returnes multiple hits in German Directores. The website is bright enough to know that these are not USA records, since it flags the German hits as locked (I have only a US membership), but it is stupid enough to send these records back as part of my search results.
This is just bad programing. I’ve been a Family Reseacher for 20 years, and a database programmer for about 30 years, and to me this is just a program bug, not some totally random undomcumented feature that we should not complain about.
When the search screen accepts field data to search by, but the search results seem to ignore those data selections, there is something wrong.
If I had similar results at work, my users would be complaining through the roof, and rightly so.

66 Mary WilliamsApril 3, 2008 at 5:10 am

I have been doing searches for a number of years on Ancestry. First, I believe it’s the best search engine out there.
I would like one catagory on the advanced search. Place of birth for parents. My person is not living with his or her parents. The information of place of birth is very important.
I have found that sometimes the person is just not there.
I have used the tools of birthplace, date of birth +1 sex, race and sometimes relationship to head of household. True you may get more hits, but if you no the approximate location-that narrows it down. I don’t even use a name. When I was desperate, I searched each page of each township in a very large county in a very large city. It took me almost a week. I could not find him (my Great Grandfather) anywhere. I knew where he lived,he just wasn’t on the census. Some of the problem is not search it is the transcription of names. I have done a lot of correcting.

67 JimApril 8, 2008 at 3:41 am

Fuzzy returns are fine and necessary but you need to also allow the ability to specify some fields to be *exact* in which *only* records matching the exact field are returned.

68 HarleneApril 10, 2008 at 8:35 pm

I do not think I have been using it correctly. I have found a great deal of information but never more than I asked for.

69 HarleneApril 10, 2008 at 8:47 pm

I finally found my great grandmothers real name which had been listed wrong in a family-based geneaology book when I found it on my grandmothers death certificate in

70 judy adamsApril 11, 2008 at 5:05 pm

i have not read the comments on the subject as i did not want to be iflenced in what others said so you got my honest of the top of my head opinion which will provide you with a better response

type ahead is a right pain in the butt on the presant system i constantly have to remove the unwanted entry in the father box when searching the trees PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE

give us some credit we are quite able to decide for OUR SELVES wether or not WE want to fill in the other boxes. not having tried the new system
i am guessing here but if it works in the same way as another program i use the moment you type in a couple of letters on the box it automatically fills in a word. i find this very ANOYING TO SAY THE LEAST. so for instance if i start to fill in the box and want to put ‘WEST’ the program because i have previously entered ‘WESTBROOK’ automaticaly fills in the box as ‘WESTBROOK’ The moment i have put in ‘WE’ meaning i have to remove the ‘BROOK’ part a compleate waste of my time. as my tree is full of such names i can see nothing but a very painful process for me.
correct me if i am wroung on my asumption. but because the feature is advertized in the discription that is why i have opted not to TRY the system out

71 JemMay 12, 2008 at 1:19 pm

I can only (very frustratedly) echo the comments from Deborah Sweet and David Lawson at posts 10 and 11 respectively. Well said!!

72 JemMay 12, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Quote from Kendall Hulet above (thread author):

“I heard that comment frequently enough from customers like you, that we completed a project some time ago that I believe addresses a lot of these issues”

I still get either lots of nonsense, or nothing at all (depending whether “exact” is used or not). Of the too many records that do appear, I’ve yet to find a relevant one after three pages of scrolling – one simply loses heart!

And what’s with the image viewer lately?? Or perhaps I should say “lack of”. I am rarely able to view anything!

73 Susan Howell MockMay 15, 2008 at 2:58 pm

I have been trying a long time and I cannot find my mother and father and I have my birth certif. with names and dates and I have paid and not paid for info and I still get no where maybe you can help. I don’t know where to go from here, I hope you can point the way time is getting short for me and I would like to know before I go.
Thank You

74 Jo DaviesMay 25, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Would just like to say that although the system is not perfect, I now know where my Grandmothers family original came from and have actually met living relatives living in Wales.
You are to be congratulated.

75 Margaret ChaneyJuly 9, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Since first becoming a subscriber to your site I have had recurring problems when searching census records. The problem occurred when I was either browsing a specific census, page after page, or when searching just one person and deciding to look at the previous or next page(s). Everything would go just fine for various periods of time and then, seemingly for no reason at all, the next page wouldn’t load. I tried advising you of the problem through the channel you provided, i.e. “image doesn’t load”, but that produced no results that I am aware of. Then I started calling you (you don’t actually have a “Support” line, but I called to advise that I was cancelling my subscription unless you could resolve the problem. Time after time I got the same response, “If you have a virus program running, it is causing the problem. Contact your Virus Program provider for help.” I use Norton’s and they tried to be helpful, offering suggestions that took substantial time and effort on my part to follow, all to no avail. The problem continued. It was frustrating. Then by accident I learned that if I closed the record I was searching and left the Internet, then immediately came back afresh, the problem was corrected and I would continue my searching until it would happen again, then I would repeat the process.

I am not a computer guru. I am an 86 year old woman who is self taught as far as computers and software are concerned. I began to analyze what was happening and suddenly one day it became clear. I have to believe that I am not the only person this happens to, and if I am correct then there must have been many others who complained, or maybe just cancelled their subscription. What was happening was due to my way of searching! Let me explain. I would start looking through the names on the census page as soon as the image began to appear on the screen and would follow it as the rest of the names were displayed. If I didn’t find a name that was of interest to me, I was through looking as soon as the last name was shown, so I would immediately click the “Next Page” arrow. If there was still more of the image to be displayed, i.e., usually the left half of the page (which contains the names) is displayed, then the right, when I clicked the “Next” arrow, the program terminated my previous page request and attempted to commence the current request, but apparently the program is written in such a way that unless each request is allowed to continue all the way through and allowed to terminate on its own terms, then an internal error occurs. There is no error message denoting this, however, only failure to download the next requested page.

I have now learned that I must sit patiently after checking all the names as they appear, waiting for the rest of the page to be displayed. Not until the green “progress thermometer” disappears do I click the “Next Page” arrow now, that is, unless my mind is completely absorbed in the information I am finding and I forget to wait, in which case I close the window, leave the Internet altogether, and then return to the exact same page to continue my searching.

Is there a “fix” for what I consider to be a frustrating experience, if not an actual flaw, in the search process?

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