Use our suggestions to track down missing ancestors and get more from your Ancestry.co.uk searches.
1. Focused searching
Searching all our records at once is extremely powerful, but it can give you too many search results. Consider searching categories, such as census or military records. Or if you know where and when you’re looking for your ancestors, you can often search within particular record collections.
2. Recent collections
On our main search page, look for ‘Recently viewed collections’ in the top-right corner. These links will take you straight back to the record collections you last looked at.
3. Recent searches
Slightly further down the page, on the left, you’ll find ‘Recent Searches’. This provides a list of the ancestors you last searched for – click on them to go straight back to your search results.
4. Local records
At the bottom of the main search page is a map of the UK. Click within the map to see lists of record collections for any country. You can then use the options on the right to see just the collections for a particular county.
6. Card Catalogue
For a wider view, use the Card Catalogue – you’ll find this at the bottom of the Search menu at the top of the screen. This lets you see all the record collections across our whole site, and filter them by category, location and date.
7. New releases
We’re constantly adding record collections, so there are always new opportunities to find your family. Stay up-to-date with our latest releases here.
8. Exact matches
The ‘Match all terms exactly’ option can be useful in narrowing down your results. However, be careful as this will exclude any records that don’t include all the information in your search – for example, many records don’t have a death date.
9. Alternative names
Names were often spelt differently in the past, so use the options under the ‘First Name’ and ‘Last Name’ boxes to include alternatives. However, also take the time to search for other possibilities yourself (for example Owen and Owens), as this can be more effective.
10. Wildcard searches
You can also look for different spellings using wildcard characters. Use an * if there are several letters you’re not sure of (‘Rob*son will look for Robinson and Robertson) or a ? for a single letter (Sm?th for Smith and Smyth). For more information on wildcards watch the ‘Go further with searching’ video in our Help & Advice Centre.
11. Nearby counties
You’ll often find that your ancestors moved across county borders. You can use the advanced options under any Location box to focus your search on the county that you entered, plus any bordering counties.
12. Family members
There are many James Olivers in our records, but far fewer who were married to ladies named Charlotte, and fewer still with sons named Frank. Use the ‘Family Member’ options to include other relatives in your search.
13. Lateral thinking
Another option is to simply search for a different person in the same household. Perhaps you can’t find James Oliver? Try searching for wife Charlotte or other family members with more unusual names, and see if you can spot James elsewhere on the record.
14. Collection Priority
The ‘Collection Priority’ option lets you focus on different parts of the world. Perhaps your greatuncle ran away to America? Switch the collection priority to United States to view mainly American records, and tick ‘Show only records from these collections’ if you don’t want to see anything else.
15. Browsing records
When you’re searching within individual record collections, you’ll often see options to ‘Browse this collection’ on the right. These let you choose a particular place and time period, and read through the records as though you were reading a book – they’re particularly useful with parish records.
16. Result views
There are two ways of viewing your results. – switch between them using the ‘View’ option in the top-right. ‘Sorted by relevance’ presents each individual record with the closest matches at the top; ‘Summarized by category’ groups your results together, so you can see what categories and collections they come from.
17. Edit Search
If you’ve made a mistake, or you want to try a slightly different search, you don’t need to go back to the search page. Just click ‘Edit Search’ in the top-left, change anything you want, and then click ‘Search’.
18. Narrow by Category
Perhaps you’re only interested in census records or travel records? You can easily filter your results by selecting one of the options under ‘Narrow by category’. You’ll then see more filter options, such as date ranges or sub-categories.
19. Record preview
If you keep clicking on all your results, it can take a long time to check which ones relate to your family. Instead, just hover over a result to see a quick preview of the most important information.
20. Hot Keys
You can use keyboard shortcuts to move through your results more quickly. For example, pressing ‘r’ will let you edit your search, while ‘p’ brings up a preview of the record you’ve selected. There’s a full list of your Hot Keys in the bottom-left.
Find more top tips in our Help & Advice centre
Emma Pulman is a Social Media and digital Marketing Executive for Ancestry.co.uk. Based in Ancestry's London office in Hammersmith, Emma regularly tweets and posts on Ancestry's Facebook page.