Last week I was fortunate to be one of the hundreds of family historians who descended on Little Rock, Arkansas for the 2009 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) annual conference. I want to thank everyone who stopped by the Ancestry.com booth to chat with us. It was great to see so many first-time attendees.
I spent a lot of time at the conference doing one-on-one consultations—brainstorming with some of you over your ancestral brick walls. Most of the people I talked to had gone through census records for the years their ancestors were alive. They had done “global” searches of all the databases on Ancestry.com and picked up most of the best results. We needed to dig a little deeper. Since many of the consults were centered in states where I don’t have much research experience, to begin I did a little canvassing to familiarize myself with what records are available for that area. I started with the Card Catalog and was surprised to learn that many of our visitors had never used the Card Catalog and several wanted to know what they could find in it.
Similar to the catalogs you find in libraries, the “Card Catalog” is where you look to find what books–or in this case database titles–can be found on Ancestry.com. There are currently more than 29,000 titles within Ancestry.com. When you perform a search from the home page or from the Search tab, you are searching all of those collections at one time. However, as we all know, sometimes the records of our ancestors don’t show up quite like we expect them. Sometimes we have to finesse the database a little bit to locate that particularly elusive ancestor.
To do that, we have to know what collections we’re missing–what collections are available that might be hiding your ancestor. The Card Catalog is your guide to those collections. You can access the catalog by hovering over the Search tab to bring up the drop-down menu. Then select Card Catalog from the bottom of that menu.
The Card Catalog is searchable. You can search by title or keyword. Searching by title will only search the words in the title of the database, whereas searching by keyword will also search the extended description of that database, so that’s going to typically bring back more results.
A more effective way to canvass what’s available for a particular state is to use the filters below the search field. Here you can search geographically, and then perhaps narrow your search by selecting a particular collection (e.g., Immigration and Emigration; Birth, Marriages & Deaths; Stories, Memories & Histories; etc.). Date filters let you specify a particular decade or century so you’re not looking for your twentieth century ancestor in colonial records.
The geographic filters allow you to drill down to the county level, but I like to browse by state as well. Sometimes resources from neighboring areas can spur ideas as well.
As you add filters, you’ll see the results on the right change in response to your selections. Using the drop-down box at the top of the results page, you can choose the listed databases by popularity, database title, date updated, date added, or record count.
Once you locate a title of interest, searching the database directly allows you to explore the content within and by focusing your search, you can create more powerful searches. In some cases you’ll find search forms that have been tailored specifically for the content within that database.
So what are you waiting for? Click here to search the Card Catalog and see what collections your ancestor may be hiding in.
About Juliana Smith
Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.