We have over 26,000 collections of data and records that we search every time you press a search button. By choosing a specific nationality or ethnicity, we will give the collections that we know to have data pertinent to that nationality or ethnicity a little more weight.
So if you are searching for someone you know lived in Canada his entire life, you can tell the search engine to give more weight in ranked search for records that have been specifically identified as Canadian records. This includes Census records, newspapers, various vital records as well as others.
In addition to prioritizing collections, choosing a value helps us know whether to apply a different soundex algorithm or use different name dictionaries to better find approximate matches for the names you entered.
For example, let’s say you are searching for Robert Jones, and you know he was born in England about 1830, but he lived most of his life in Canada. Our search engine will find many matching records for Robert Jones in England, Canada, the US and elsewhere. If you choose to prioritize Canadian collections, we know that those will be more likely to contain records you want. So if multiple records match your search equally well, we will list records from our Canadian collections first.
If you ancestor has lived in multiple places, I would suggest you do multiple searches, using a different set of collections that might contain your ancestor with each search. It never hurts to check anywhere that might be even remotely possible. You never know where that elusive record you are looking for might be.
If you are not sure which collection to use, choose the “All Collections” option, and we will look at every collection equally.
We don’t have enough data sets to form a good collection for all countries and ethnic backgrounds. As our collection of data sets grows, we will continue to add more collections.
To find databases that cover a specific topic, the best place is to start with the Ancestry Card Catalog, which you can find under quick links on the ancestry home page. When you are at the Card Catalog, type a word into the Title or Keyword field and press Search. You will see a list of data set titles that pertain to that topic. From there you can click on a data set title and search it individually for your ancestor.
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.