Using Ancestry: Going International, by Juliana Smith

Using any new set of records can be challenging, but when you begin crossing borders and venturing into other countries, it can be even more so. Last week Ancestry announced the launch of sites in France and Italy. With the announcement I heard from quite a few people with questions about the new sites. With that in mind, this week I thought we’d go over some basics, and I’ll share some tips for getting the most from the new sites.

Individuals with World Deluxe memberships through,, or any other Ancestry portal can access the new data on these sites. You can check your subscription or upgrade to World Deluxe by logging in to Ancestry and then clicking on My Account in the upper right corner of the screen. The next page will tell you what subscription you have and how to upgrade.

Accessing Through Your “Home” Portal
When the site went up, I’m sorry that I neglected to mention an important point. All of this data is available to you through your home portal, that is, the site you have subscribed through. The,, and other ethnic portals are geared towards users in those countries, with subscription options in local currency, and obviously are in the home country’s native language.

However, you can access all of the databases for those sites through your home site. Just click on the Search tab and the select the appropriate region in the lower left corner of that page, followed by the country of your choice. Accessing the databases in this manner will allow you to browse the database titles that are available and read the descriptions in your native language.

You can log in to the European portal sites and search through them as well, allowing you to weed out unwanted hits from databases from your home country. If you open a window in each, you can even bounce back and forth to look up database descriptions in English, for example, while searching through the Italian website.

Look for Translation Guides
While the database descriptions will be in English if you search through, unfortunately the records are not. (The record keepers weren’t aware that there would be family historians around the world looking at their work, so they didn’t bother to translate for us.) 😉 You will need to do a little translating, but fortunately, there are guides available that can help.

The FamilySearch website has “Research Helps” available that include a mini-tutorial on language characteristics and a glossary of common terms you may run across in records from that country. For example, I looked for help with Italian records, by first clicking on the “Search” tab at FamilySearch and then selecting “Research Helps” from the menu below the tabs. I then selected “I” and scrolled down to Italy. I selected the “Italian Word List” and clicked on the PDF link so that I could print out the guide for easy reference.

As an experiment I went to the Falerna, Catanzaro, Italy Vital Records, 1810-1936 and spot checked some of the records. Although it was a slow process for this non-Italian-speaking person, I was able to locate and translate many of the terms in the records I saw using this guide. Since I have absolutely no experience with Italian research, this is encouraging.

There are also other translation sites available that can help like AltaVista’s Babelfish. Try a search for “free online translation” and you’ll get several options.

It’s a good idea to get help verifying your translations from others with more experience, particularly if your experience level is anything like mine! RootsWeb mailing lists and message boards may be able to hook you up with a translator, but be sure to read the list or board guidelines before posting your request. There is a message board set up specifically for translation help at RootsWeb.

You can also search for a professional in the U.S. through the Association of Professional Genealogists. There are a number of translators listed in their directory.

Search Tips
Here are a few tips for searching international databases:

  • Search Using the Native Language. Look for given name equivalents for your ancestors in their native language. Behind the is a good starting point for this information. 
  • Read the Database Descriptions. As with any search, it’s important to read the database descriptions. You may find help there and ideas on how to best search the databases. In addition, the description will also tell you about the coverage. Some databases may not be complete at this time, and the description will tell you what is currently available. 
  • Compare Handwriting. Some of the images of records I viewed had very flowery handwriting. If you have a hard time with a letter, compare it to other words on that page, or those preceding or following it. In one of the records I viewed, I could easily pick out the name of Falerna, and that helped me decipher both a capital F that wasn’t as clear and the way the recorder wrote the letter R. 
  • Know Your Geography and History. This last one comes from Genealogy 101, regardless of where your research interests lie, but is critical when working with records in Europe where boundaries changed often. It’s the key to understanding the records and where you might expect to find those of your ancestors. An investment in guides like “Italian Genealogical Records,” “Finding Your German Ancestors,” and other similar guides can pay big dividends when it comes to researching in a foreign country.

Best of luck with your international research!

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Juliana Smith has been an editor of newsletters for more than eight years and is author of The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book. She has written for Ancestry Magazine and wrote the “Computers and Technology” chapter in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.


3 thoughts on “Using Ancestry: Going International, by Juliana Smith

  1. Excellent article on other countries research tips. Would it be permissable for me to copy this article to my own family research site on MyFamily?

  2. Hi there!

    This is a great article! Thank you for making it clear that World Deluxe subscribers have access to ALL the Ancestry geographical sites. If someone is researching their ancestors and families in one of these places, it is important to check the content in the databases at those portal sites because there are different things there than at the site.

    My question is, how long until Ancestry adds the new French and Italian portals as links at the bottom of the Web pages? Sure, you can get there using and — but it sure is easier to just click the links at the bottom of the Web pages! (Can you tell I’m getting lazy?)

    Happy Hunting!


  3. I just checked your Ancestry.It site. The only thing right was my name. My grandmother’s name was correct but her place of birth was wrong, her date of death was wrong, my address is incorrect. I live in PA not Tenn. If this is all you can show me, i am disappointed.

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