Ancestry Blog » Anne Gillespie Mitchell The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:23:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ask Ancestry Anne: How Do I Find Trees? Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:40:40 +0000 Read more]]> 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!




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Virginia Vital Records Are Here! Tue, 02 Jun 2015 14:36:36 +0000 Read more]]> Do you have Virginia ancestors?  Wouldn’t it be great if you could have access to Birth, Marriage, Death and Divorce certificates? Can you imagine the goodies that you might find in there? Parents names and birth places, birth, marriage, and death dates and places, possible other relatives, burial places.  Sounds like a recipe to break down a brick wall or two.

Virginia, Birth Records, 1864-1999

Birth details have been extracted from Virginia birth records for the years 1864-1999 as well as images of birth records for the years 1864–1913, which fall outside the 100-year privacy restriction.

Included in this collection are delayed birth certificates.  On the delayed birth certificates, you will a section that states the proof.  Oh, how I wish I could get my hands on the family bible that this Notary Public saw stating the proof for the birth date of my great aunt!


And if you find a delayed birth certificate make sure that you look at the following image.  Someone may have filed the proof with the certificate, like this letter for Eloise Jordan.


Virginia, Marriage Records, 1936-2014

We’ve also indexed Virginia marriage records from 1936 to 2014. And while there are privacy restrictions for records from 1989 to 2014, we have images from 1936-1988 of the actual certificates that were recorded.  These records include specific details about the bride and groom and often the parent’s names as well.

Looking for brothers and sisters?  Search on just parent’s names to see if you can find a sibling that you never knew about.  Often the mother’s maiden is given.

Virginia, Death Records, 1912 – 2014

Death records are indexed from 1912-2014 and images are available from 1912 to 1987.

Make sure you read the entire record.  There is a story there.  We learn that Wyatt died from organic heart disease and that he had been attended by the doctor for 10 years.  He worked as a Carpenter and was retired.  We also find his parent’s names and birth places. You might think that his mother’s maiden name wasn’t given; however it was. Jerimiah and Mary were first cousins.


You’ll also notice that part of the document was redacted; that is where you would find the Social Security Number.

Virginia, Divorce Records, 1918-2014

Not every marriage works out, and if it didn’t for your ancestors they left behind important vital information.  Images are available from 1918 to 1988 and indexed information from 1989 to 2014. You’ll find birth information and when and where the couple were married as well as the cause of the divorcee and the number of children they had.


So don’t waste any time — start searching!

Happy searching!

Note: These records were made available via a collaboration between the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Ancestry. Read the announcement made by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe here.



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Ask Ancestry Anne: Can I Trust Trees? Wed, 27 May 2015 18:38:30 +0000 Read more]]>

Hello Anne,

I have a question related to using other people’s family trees on Ancestry.  This is an honest question born out of some struggles!

How do you know when and if their information is accurate?  Particularly when you are researching an ancestor that is new for you and the “hints” that are provided are from someone’s family tree.


This question comes up a lot.  You want to approach other people’s trees just like you would approach any record.

Think about a death certificate.  It can contain all sorts of information, such as a death date and location, birth date and location, and parents’ names.  How do you know if that information is correct?  The death date and location are likely to be correct, though not always, as that information was generally recorded close to the event and very likely by someone who was there.  But birth information and parents’ names? They could be right, they could be wrong.  You have to look at who the informant was and how the information compares to other information that you have.

You should evaluate someone else’s tree the same way.  First, what question are you trying to answer?  Maybe you want to know who the children of a person were. Or when the person was born. Or where.

The upcoming site update, which is being rolled out incrementally to our members, offers a new way to look at your sources.  (Note: You may not have seen this yet, but it is coming!  Read more at Sneak Peek of The New Ancestry Website!)

The new presentation makes it a little bit easier to see what the supporting documents for a fact are.

On the tree page, choose Facts.



Then click on the fact that you are evaluating.  If I want to know where the information for the birth date comes from, I can click on Birth.


I see that information came from the 1850, 1870, and 1880 censuses and Find A Grave.  I can click on the record, click VIEW, examine the details, and then view the actual record.   Always look at the supporting evidence!


When determining if the children are correct, look at each child individually.  Start with birth dates and locations.  Do they make sense? What supporting evidence is there?  And even if there isn’t supporting evidence on that tree, don’t assume those names are wrong.  Do some investigation on your own.  Can you find census records, vitals, or probates to support that parent-child relationship?

Don’t look at an entire tree or entry as being right or wrong. First, ask yourself, what question am I trying to answer?  Then look at the entry, see what evidence is available to answer that, and evaluate each piece of evidence on its own.

Go slow, examine everything, and keep looking to find more evidence that confirms or denies.  But don’t avoid trees!  There is some bad information out there, but there is also a whole lot of great research and plenty of documents for you to examine.  A really good genealogist looks at everything.

Happy searching!


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Ask Ancestry Anne: 5 Tips for Researching the Females in Your Tree Fri, 01 May 2015 16:52:19 +0000 Read more]]> maryWith Mother’s Day right around the corner, it might be a good time to focus on the female side of your tree.  But let’s face it, women can be harder to track because they didn’t leave as many records behind.  I have a few things I try with every female in my tree when I get stuck on maiden names and finding parents:

  1. Search for her married name in other people’s obituaries. You might find her in a sibling’s obituary that has that maiden name you are looking for.  Even if you don’t find the name you are looking for, make sure you research the names in the obituary.  You never know what you might find.
  2. Look at other surnames in the household. When reviewing census records, look for unexpected surnames in the household.  And if you find the family in a city directory, search for other names at the same address to see if you find in-laws or people you didn’t expect.
  3. Look at neighbors, especially right after the wedding. Often after a couple is first married, they don’t move far from home.  Check the families nearby and see if they might be likely candidates for the family of the female you are researching.  Then look to see if she is in the household in the previous census.
  4. Look through local and family histories. Family and local histories are full of names and relationships.  Search for local histories in the county in our card catalog or on the place pages for that state and county.
  5. Check death certificates for all of a woman’s children to see if her maiden name is listed.  The death certificates of her children may hold a clue to the mother’s maiden name.  Also, look at the obituaries of the children.  Some are written with a lot of detail.

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

Happy searching!

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Ask Ancestry Anne: Answers 5 DNA Questions Fri, 03 Apr 2015 16:50:11 +0000 Read more]]> fan chart with DNA hints

We get a lot of questions about DNA.  Here are 5 of the most common and the answers:

1. Is it true that only men can take the test?

AncestryDNA is an autosomal DNA test that tests 22 pairs of Autosomal testing allows you to find family across all lines in your family tree. That means both men and women can take the test, and the results are not limited to just the direct maternal or paternal lines.

2. I’ve done my DNA test and I’ve seen my ethnic breakdown.  Now what?

Check out the information on the history of these regions by clicking on each ethnic region and explore the history of the people your DNA matches. Remember these results can go back 500-1000 years ago.

Start building your tree. And build it wide.  If you work on only one branch you may be missing cousin hints from all those other branches.  And be patient.  You never know when that cousin you need to make a breakthrough will take the test and show up in your hint list!

3. I’ve been told where my ancestors come from, but AncestryDNA tells me something different. How do I know what to believe?

Your family tree stretches back hundreds of years, and AncestryDNA can reach back hundreds, maybe even a thousand years, to tell you things that aren’t in historical records—things you might never have known otherwise.  And if you’ve been told that you were Irish or German or some other background, it may be so far back that those markers didn’t make their way to your DNA.

4. My sister and I have different ethnic percentages. How can that be?

This is actually very common.  You get about 50% of your DNA from your mom and 50% from your dad. But which segments of DNA make up that 50% are completely random, so the odds are actually against you and your sibling getting exactly the same segments of DNA from each parent.  You’ll match as being a very close family connection, but your ethnic breakdowns can, and will, be different.  And you may also connect to different people with DNA hints.  That’s why testing more people is always a good idea!

5. I’ve always been told that I am Native American.  But your DNA test says I’m not.  What gives?

There are a few possibilities.  First, maybe that is simply a family myth. Second, it is possible that your Native American ancestry is far enough back that not enough of it was passed down to you for the test to detect.  If your parent didn’t receive any Native American markers in the 50% of the DNA that came from his parent, then you can’t have it either.  Third, you may come from a Native American ancestry that isn’t being identified by our tests.  Don’t ignore good old-fashioned research.  There is always more than one way to get to an answer.

Happy Searching!

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North Carolina County Marriage Records Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:18:39 +0000 Read more]]> Do you have North Carolina ancestors?  Well you may need to take a day off from work or tell your family you simply aren’t available.

Ancestry has launched North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 and this data collection includes images of marriage bonds, licenses, certificates, and registers from 87 different counties.

On the data collection page, check out the browse section on the right hand side to see which counties are available and what records are included for that county.

Check the browse section on the right side of the data collection page to see what is available.

Check the browse section on the right side of the data collection page to see what is available.

And check each entry you find for your ancestor.  This search for Newman Alexander and Catherine Carpenter gives me two entries:


Check each search result to see if they point to different images.

Check each search result to see if they point to different images.


Don’t assume they are the same.  One is to a book that abstracts marriage records, the second is to an actual bond.

And if you are doing African American research in North Carolina, you may discover some critical clues.

In 1866, An Act Concerning Negroes and Persons of Color or of Mixed Blood made provisions for the legal registration of the marriages of recently emancipated slaves.

The recording of the marriages took place mostly around 1866, they reference the joining of couples living as man and wife dating back to 1820, and possibly earlier.

The details on these records typically only give the names of the bride and groom, the year, and sometimes the month they began living together as man and wife. Sometimes they also include the names of their former owners, making these a powerful genealogical tool for those researching their African American roots.

Example of a slave marriage record.

Example of a slave marriage record.


Happy Searching!

Thanks to Juliana Szucs for the information on the African American records in this collection.



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Ask Ancestry Anne: Where Did My People Come From? Thu, 05 Mar 2015 17:54:45 +0000 Read more]]> shipFor many of us, knowing where our ancestors came from is a primary goal.  Here are some tips on where you might start looking.

  1. 1850 – 1940 U.S. Census records. Census records list the person’s birthplace; 1880 – 1930 also list parents’ birthplace.  This is obvious place to start looking!  Make sure to check every relevant year – information may vary for any given person.  Also check siblings and cousins for consistencies and other clues.
  2. Check the neighborhood.  Is everyone in the neighborhood on a census from the same place.  That might be a clue as to where your family came from even if your ancestor is listed as being from the U.S.
  3. Death certificates.  Some death certificates ask for parents’ names and places of birth.  Makes sure to look at death certificates for siblings and cousins for the information as well.
  4. Family histories.  Family histories often discuss the origins of the family.  Not every detail may be correct, but they are worth a look.
  5. DNA.  Your DNA won’t tell you which line came from where but it will give you some clues.  And always test your oldest family members to narrow your search.

Ancestry also has lots of great research guides with more information on finding foreign ancestors


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Leaving a Legacy: Ada Lovelace Wed, 25 Feb 2015 15:37:23 +0000 Read more]]> You may have recently watched the Imitation Game and learned about Alan Turing’s efforts to defeat the Nazis with his ingenious computer work.  But do you know who is credited with creating the first computer program?  Would you have guessed an English Countess?

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, born 1815 and died 1852 in England, is credited with creating the first computer program.

She was baptized December 20, 1815 as Augusta Ada Byron, daughter of Lord George Gordon Byron and Anne Isabella (née Milbanke) Byron.


She married William Lord King, who subsequently became the Earl of Lovelace making Ada the Countess of Lovelace.



But Ada wasn’t content with just being a Countess and a mother of 3. Ada was well educated and continued her education and research after her marriage. She worked with Charles Babbage on his “analytical engine.” This eventually led to her translating notes of young engineer and future Italian Prime Minister Luigi Menabrea into English.  Her notes were incredibly extensive and part of those notes included an algorithm for computing Bernoulli Numbers on Babbage’s Analytical Engine, making it the original computer program.

She suffered from illness throughout much of her adult life and died at the age of 36 in 1852.


But she left a legacy as being the first person to write a computer program, and she did it as working mom!

Find our other notable women here,  

Elizabeth Blackwell

Sojourner Truth

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Ask Ancestry Anne: Does My DNA Suggest Native American? Mon, 02 Feb 2015 20:53:51 +0000 Read more]]> Question: Like many African Americans I have gone through my seventy six years believing my family was Native American, in particular Cherokee, so for my birthday I submitted my DNA to Ancestry only to find that I am anything but.   DNA = 73% African, 3% Asian, 23% European, and 1% West Asian.

— Fran

Answer: I recently heard Henry Louis Gates Jr. speak, and he mentioned that African Americans often believe that they are some mix of African and Native American, but it is usually not true.  That said, I suspect your family legends may have some truth in them.

The two percentages that caught my eye are 3% Asian and 1% West Asian.   While your DNA doesn’t match one of the Native American tribes in our test, the Asian here is likely representative of some Native American Ancestry in your heritage.

If this theory is true, it is possible that your Native American ancestry might come from a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th great-grandparent:


But remember, DNA is not handed down evenly like in the table here.  You never know how much you have from each grand parent or the previous generations.

Also remember that in census or other records you might find, Native Americans were sometimes listed as African American especially, if they were of mixed race.

I believe you are likely on the right track.  If you can test a sibling or cousin — or even better someone from an older generation — you might be able to get more data to support this theory.  The answer is out there. Keep searching!



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Ask Ancestry Anne: How Do You Get Kids Involved in Genealogy? Mon, 05 Jan 2015 17:27:16 +0000 Read more]]> Looking for new ways to get the children in your life involved in genealogy?  Are you a Civil War buff?  Or better yet, both?  If so, you might want to check out the Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG) program.

Over 600,000 thousand soldiers died during the Civil War and this inventive program is planting a tree for each and every one of them by working with schools and students.

jthg1Each tree in the this program will be geo-tagged, which will allow visitors to check the website and mobile app to learn exactly where a soldier’s tree is and learn about the soldier it commemorates. The website and mobile app links to the soldier’s memorial page on Fold3. These memorial pages have basic facts about the soldier and users can upload additional information, documents, and photographs.

You can find Fold3 Memorial Pages such as this one for William Nanney who died August 2, 1862 in Petersburg, Virginia. You can also look up the location of his tree on the Living Legacy Map.jthg2

JTHG, Ancestry, and Fold3 are working with teachers to help them incorporate researching the lives of the Civil War fallen into their curriculum. For more information about this program, visit the Journey Through Hallowed Ground website.  If you are interested in learning more about a grant for Ancestry and Fold3 in your favorite child’s classroom, visit our Ancestry K12 site.



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