Using Ancestry: The Ancestry Card Catalog, by Michael John Neill

There are times when I search all databases at once, while other times I like to search a specific database. The global search at is useful, especially when the name is somewhat uncommon, but it doesn’t serve every purpose. If I’m researching a common surname, or if I need to perform more intricate or precise searches, I find that mining one database at a time is preferable.

The problem with searching small individual databases is finding them. That problem can be solved with the Card Catalog. Using this search, I have found databases I wasn’t aware or had completely forgotten about.

I performed several searches of the Card Catalog and was pleasantly surprised at the materials that were in the collection–especially records of a local nature that had slipped beneath my radar.

Filter by Collection
There are several ways search filters can be applied to the Card Catalog. You’ll find them on the left side of the Card Catalog page. The Filter by Collection feature allows you to sort based upon what type of content the database contains and can be helpful when you are searching for only military records, only immigration records, etc.

Filter by Location
We’ll focus on location filters, as it is a great way to discover and locate relevant materials t Ancestry. It is located just below the collection filter that we just discussed.

The locality filter allows you to choose one geographic level at a time. Keep in mind that to facilitate this search, some standardization of locations had to be done. As a new location is chosen for the filter, the results on the right hand side of the screen will be updated with new titles and the “filter by” areas of the left hand side will be updated as well.

Let’s walk through an example. I want to see what collections are available for Coshocton County, Ohio, so I scroll down the page to Filter by Location and first I select United States. As I do so, a layer is applied to the filter that eliminates all non-U.S. titles. Next I select Ohio and that eliminates more titles. The updated screen indicates that there are 9,419 titles classified under Ohio (at least for now). When I then choose Coshocton County, the results narrow to eighteen databases.

The filter side of the screen tells me sixteen of these are classified under Newspapers and Periodicals and that the other two are in Stories, Memories, and Histories. This category includes county histories.

Clicking on Stories, Memories, and Histories (on the left in the Filter Titles section), narrows my results and on the right I only see the two results for Coshocton County, Ohio.

In this example, the search results include the county history I was seeking. When I clicking on the title, I see A History of Coshocton County, Ohio: Its Past and Present, 1740-1881, along with a search box that allows me to search this document only. A search for only the last name of “demoss” (specifying exact) turns up eleven hits. The results screen shows me snippets of the pages on which the name “demoss” appears. The result from page 502 catches my attention. Viewing the full image, I see the following sentence:

“John Demoss, his wife and son Lewis, Thomas Ramphey and family, and Crispin Tredaway, crossed the Allegheny mountains in wagons from Harford county, Maryland, in the fall of 1817, and settled in this township.”

The Thomas “Ramphey” is likely Thomas Rampley, an ancestor of mine. (He and Demoss were brothers-in-law.) Reading through the entry, you can see that the snippet uses the phrase “this township.” I will need to read the pages preceding page 502 to determine what township “this township” is.
Funny Results?
If your results seem a little off, you may have forgotten to reset your filters. After I located the Coshocton County publication, I went off in search for marriages in Chariton County, Missouri, in the Card Catalog. I could not find the reference to a marriage database that I had used previously, and was just about to send someone an e-mail. Then I realized that I had my Filter by Collection still set to Stories, Memories & Histories. That was why the marriages were not coming up in my results. Marriages are classified under Birth, Marriage and Death.

At the top of the filter box there is the option to Reset all filters and start over. If you make a habit of using it whenever your searches change direction, you will save yourself a lot of frustration. Also, below the reset filters link, your current filter will be displayed. If you want to remove one aspect of your filter, simply hit the X in the circle to the right of the filter word.

One caveat: Although you can browse down to the county level, don’t ignore databases listed at the state or national level. Many of these collections are crucial to your research as well. Census, immigration, and military records are excellent examples of record sets that will be found classified at the state and national levels.

Other Filter Layers
Records can also be filtered by date and by language. These filtering options are fairly self-explanatory and work similarly to the filtering by collection and location.

Browse the Card Catalog by record type or by location–or both. It is the equivalent of “browsing the library stacks.” Experienced genealogists will tell you that browsing is how great discoveries are made.

Keep in mind that the new search is still being improved and no catalog is entirely perfect. But it sure beats the old days when cards were printed on paper and only one person could use a card drawer at a time.

Michael John Neill is a genealogical writer and speaker who has been researching his or his children’s genealogy for more than twenty years. A math instructor in his “other life,” Michael taught at the former Genealogical Institute of Mid-America and has served on the FGS Board. He also lectures on a variety of genealogical topics and gives seminars across the country. He maintains a personal website at:

15 thoughts on “Using Ancestry: The Ancestry Card Catalog, by Michael John Neill

  1. I thank you for this and with me just learning to find ancesters I sure need smart tools.

  2. I see where my problem was in finding the Card Catalog. When I bring up, I automatically hit the Search subheading, rather than going to the Home screen, where the Card Catalog appears.

  3. I can’t get to the Card Catalog page that you link to by going through any of the Ancestry Card Catalog options that start from the Home Page. Is the page used in your article hidden in some way? If so, the article is of little long range use, unless one saves the link as a Favorite. Neither the Home page or Search page, nor any of their Card Catalog links, takes you to

  4. I also cannot get to a Card Catalog page that looks like the one you describe. There is nothing on the LEFT SIDE of the Card Catalog page except the usual search window. There is nothing that says “Filter by Location.” I have always found the Card Catalog feature to be among the most frustrating and difficult to use. Would love to be able to search the way you describe in your article…please?

  5. In New York State, search by location, I am unable to find the counties of Kings, Queens, Richmond, New York, Bronx (the counties that make up New York City). All other New York State counties are listed.


  6. Cindy,
    Do you have the New Search chosen? If you’re using the Old Search that may be the problem.

  7. Sure would be helpful to be able to get a “printer friendly” instead of having to print 10 comments!

  8. I agree with you John about the printer friendly version without the comments. There were a lot of helpful tips in the catalog article, but I was distracted by all of the misspellings and gramatical errors that I wouldn’t expect in a professional presentation.

  9. I, too, cannot find any the of items on the left of the page of the card catalog and nothing similar at the bottom. No place to filter anything. Just Database Title and Keywords, neither of which gets me anywhere.

  10. Like so many above, I could not find the catalog page the author was talking about.
    I finally brought up the article and clicked on the “Card Catalog Page” link in the article.
    Eureka, there is the page the article refers to.
    How would one get to this page without the link?

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