Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on October 28, 2008 in Website

We have over 26,000 collections of data and records that we search every time you press a search button. By choosing a specific nationality or ethnicity, we will give the collections that we know to have data pertinent to that nationality or ethnicity a little more weight.

So if you are searching for someone you know lived in Canada his entire life, you can tell the search engine to give more weight in ranked search for records that have been specifically identified as Canadian records. This includes Census records, newspapers, various vital records as well as others.

In addition to prioritizing collections, choosing a value helps us know whether to apply a different soundex algorithm or use different name dictionaries to better find approximate matches for the names you entered.

Example of collection

For example, let’s say you are searching for Robert Jones, and you know he was born in England about 1830, but he lived most of his life in Canada. Our search engine will find many matching records for Robert Jones in England, Canada, the US and elsewhere. If you choose to prioritize Canadian collections, we know that those will be more likely to contain records you want. So if multiple records match your search equally well, we will list records from our Canadian collections first.

If you ancestor has lived in multiple places, I would suggest you do multiple searches, using a different set of collections that might contain your ancestor with each search. It never hurts to check anywhere that might be even remotely possible. You never know where that elusive record you are looking for might be.

If you are not sure which collection to use, choose the “All Collections” option, and we will look at every collection equally.

We don’t have enough data sets to form a good collection for all countries and ethnic backgrounds. As our collection of data sets grows, we will continue to add more collections.

To find databases that cover a specific topic, the best place is to start with the Ancestry Card Catalog, which you can find under quick links on the ancestry home page. When you are at the Card Catalog, type a word into the Title or Keyword field and press Search. You will see a list of data set titles that pertain to that topic. From there you can click on a data set title and search it individually for your ancestor.

Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at She is an active blogger on and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.



  2. bromaelor

    So I can focus on English, Scottish, Irish, … connections. None of them any use when most of my ancestry is Welsh!

  3. Ronald

    I am supposed to be able to search the UK and Australian collections as part of my subscription but alas I cannot view the Australian records


    I cannot use your website. I am spending too much time just trying to find the family name
    Tripp, and the country origin of thatname. As a first time user, this site is far too complicated, if I cannot even find our family’s last name!! On a scale of 1-10, I give this site a zero tonight. We can’t even get started, let alone search.

  5. Kayellen

    Up until this past wednesday (5 Nov 2008) I was able to search records quite easily, then you changed the format of the search results and now I must select what catagory I want because of your new “Collection Option” when I would rather see the full list of results the way it was before you messed with it..

    I run on DSL and my results take longer to get to than when I used dial up in 2000 to search your site.

    Using the “Exact” option when searching for U.S. records gives me results from Canada & England. For exact results on names, dates and place…I get anything but exact.

    It took me 2 hours to search 1,500 names in your EXACT list. The names by the way were NOT EXACT.

    Scale of 1-10 I’d say Ancestry’s “New Search is sliding towards a low 5.

  6. Geri

    I agree with Robert. More lipstick on a pig! I’m having a terrible time searching today.

    I’m looking for someone in Canada and have gotten “hits” onlky to check one thing and go back to see the others and end up with a US census as the only thing showing.

    I’ve had to start the search again several times. I sure don’t remember having this type of problem before. Also, looking for someone, find one or two hits in a census or a marriage record. Check one thing want to check the other and when I go back I have thousands on hits all over the world.

  7. Geri

    I agree with Robert. More lipstick on a pig! I’m having a terrible time searching today.

    I’m looking for someone in Canada and have gotten “hits” only to check one thing and go back to see the others and end up with a US census as the only thing showing.

    I’ve had to start the search again several times. I sure don’t remember having this type of problem before. Also, looking for someone, find one or two hits in a census or a marriage record. Check one thing want to check the other and when I go back I have thousands on hits all over the world.

  8. Jim Leahy keeps touting upgrades to your search engine. Most of your upgrades have been superficial and cosmetic, adding little to the functionality. Yes, for those of us who have diminished eyesight, the ability to increase the size of what we seen is important. And adding more lists to your extensive collection is great. However, we still get the same frustrating, time consuming results with a lot of useless clutter scattered in between.

    There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the way the results are presented. Almost as if the results, as they are found, are placed in a list in the order in which they are found, hiding positive results among clutter. If you truly want to improve the capability functionality of your search engine, add some meat to the bear bones. I suggest adding the following choices to your search criteria.

    Before or After Date – This would eliminate useless results that have no relationship to what one might be searching for. Example: I know that my great great grandfather, William Gilligan, came from Ireland. And I know he was in New York by July 5, 1848. (I have his Intent to Become a Citizen Paper.) A before date would eliminate useless dates when searching for a ship he might have come over on.

    Improve the Alpha sort routine – Why should I have to go through page after page of search results to find name I’m looking for, when in fact, it matches perfectly the criteria I put in? But, the entry is number 1,479 on the search results list. And using Exact eliminates too much possible date.

    Key words to Exclude – Many times we get the same incorrect results which might be close, except that some details don’t fit and you know the person listed has no relationship. Being able to block out results which have no bearing on what you are looking for would be of great help. You already have Keywords to include, why not Keywords to NOT include.

    The above are but a few of the possibilities that could be added. Being able to sort the retrieved data would be of great benefit. Allow the user to choose the way they want the data sorted. i.e., by date, Alpha by name, by age, Alpha by city, and type of data collected. Even extend the sort by stating what order you would like the data sorted… First name, second age, third city, forth state, and so on.

    You may say that these additions to the search engine would cause the engine to run slower, which might be true. However, it can’t take as long as looking through 50 pages of information at 50 items per page, to find what you are looking for. The tradeoff for speed is far compensated by the improvement in results. And if the search routine is written correctly, we should be talking about milliseconds.

    You did a survey on what we would like to see in new data. How about doing a survey on what functions you would like to add to your search results.

  9. James

    Jim L. I’ve found that many of my ancestors are found in lower “rated” records due to mis-spellings in the original record or mis-spellings in the transcription of the original record. A person will be “lost” in the 1880 census, for example, and I’ll finally find the person via a child’s or sibling’s record.


  10. Oxpictus

    I too, get frustrated by not being able to find death records. One thing I have noticed, is that census takers could not write, could not spell, and had severe hearing disabilities.

    My father’s name- Emil Kielberg- became “Emmanual Kielbury”. I have seen our surname mangled about 8 different ways.

    Whoever allowed them to write in cursive should be destined to a hell of trying to find misspelled records for eternity.

  11. Anje

    Using the old version:
    The SQL for the exact functionality needs serious attention as it does not return exact matches.
    eg: James Houghton in Lancashire, England between 1830 and 1840. Exact matches.
    Under England and wales marriages: Returns 7 in the top 10 that are not within the time period! 3 people in the top 10 are not ‘James Houghton!
    Under England and Wales Christening records: returns no James Houghton in the top 11!! In fact it has just pulled every Houghton in Lancashire in the time frame!!

    Under the new version; using the same input data and ‘exact’ request, returns:
    England and Wales Christening: the first 18 are James Houghtons, which is good, BUT why has this ‘exact’ search also returned every other Houghton in the time frame…they should not be there.

    This is basic bad SQL programming, which needs to be remedied. Please concentrate on improving the SQL searching.
    Also could you add some useful functionality such as a ‘highlight’ facility when you use the cursor / key-down to hover over names in the list. This also needs to remain highlighted if you select to view a record. Helps to keep track of position.
    I would also like to be able to click on the various Tab headers so that I can change the viewed order according to the Tab header selected. eg: change all the ‘James Houghton’ listed into date order by clicking on the Date tab.


  12. Linda

    this new and improved site is anything but that, it is so messed up that its a wonder you still have any members left, I am seriously considering not renewing my membership unless it gets fixed, my example is when looking thru the obits for a certain person in a certain state you get all 50 states and loads of unrelated names than what you entered .

    the same way with birth records.

    please do something to correct this or you will lost members .

  13. Lindy

    This last week or so when I do a search I keep getting “no results” when there clearly are. for example if I click on 35 records for 1851 Census I get the no results page. If I keep going back and trying again eventually I get the results to show up but this is happening nearly all the time now. What is going on?

    I agree with other complains about the search, especially Newspapers. If I search for a name and a state I don’t expect to find every other state showing with hundreds of results. Adding a date to limit the results has no effect either.

    Occasionally I get a result I want but it feels like it is in spite of not because of the search engine.

    I don’t want to search through hundreds of random results looking for one that meets my search criteria buried amongst them.

    If I can’t find anything in the state I want I might try widening the search but I want to be able to choose to do that not have it forced on me.

  14. Jerry Bryan

    This comment is off topic from “collections” per se, but the “collections” thread is the last thread that Anne started. And my comment is about search and Anne is in charge of search. So hear goes.

    As several others have reported and as I have previously reported, I have been having considerable trouble in the last few weeks with searches that get no results when there clearly are results. I’ve actually had more trouble in this regard with Old Search than with New Search. However, the results have not been repeatable, and often simply repeating a search with no changes will produce the desired results. Lack of repeatability is clearly frustrating.

    Now I have a repeatable problem with New Search that doesn’t happen with Old Search. I’m looking for the Tennessee Marriage record for Daniel Taylor Harrison and Rebecca Ann Bryan.

    With New Search, I set the search up as Dan* Harrison married to Bryan. There were no matches. Changing the search to Dan Harrison married to Bryan also produced no matches. Changing the search to Dan Harrison married to Rebecca worked. The results are for Dan T Harrison and Rebecca Ann Bryan.

    With Old Search, looking for Dan* Harrison married to last name of Bryan worked just fine.

    This problem seems to me to be a “first/last name” problem with New Search rather than the more frequent “no matches when clearly there are” problem that has been reported.

    Back on the “collections” idea for a moment – I suppose there’s no real harm in the idea of collections, and considerable good that could come of them if they work. But I think it’s a misplaced effort and priority.

    The fundamental problem with ancestry’s search is that far too high a percentage of the time there are things that match when they shouldn’t and that don’t match when they should. That problem can never be solved completely because of the nature of the data being searched, but the matching process could and should be a lot better.

    Simply prioritizing poor matches therefore seems to me to be an unwise allocation of resources. Rather, it seems to me that search resources should be allocated primarily (or almost exclusively) for a while to improving the matching process. And the matching process involves lots of stuff – including the quality of the indexes, the quality of the search interface, and the quality of the search engine.

  15. Dirk J. Bindemann

    I don’t get any reference to any Bindemann in Africa, although the family or families emmigrate to South Africa in the early 1800.

  16. Marysue

    Ancestry is TOO SLOW loading all sites and pages.
    It is absolutely impossible to utilize any of your sites. When clicking to a any page, I wait and wait for some advertisement to load. I am not interested in your big fancy side type ads that you are using at the expense of my limited life time here. I am interested in
    sharing my quarter century family research and filling in some unknown data.
    I and others will seriously think twice on a subscription renewal!! Then see who reads your big, slow, loading ads……
    I did write to Ancestry Support last week and this is their reply, which tells me nothing:
    “We regret any frustration you may experience due to ads on Ancestry. Banner and other advertisements display on Ancestry because of key sponsorships with other companies. These sponsors help support the site. Since the Ancestry site is partially advertiser supported, you may not turn off the advertising that appears on pages of this site, but you may opt to be excluded from any email advertising. Please read about these options in our privacy statement, which you can access by clicking the appropriate link at the very bottom of most pages on our site.”

    Before I end, I want to draw attention to a comment from:
    Posted on:
    November 12, 2008 at 9:40 am
    Who has TIME to use a new tool when you experience the following: I feel like I am living in the dinasaur age of dial up. Have you guys sold too many subscriptions that your servers are unable to handle via your leaf commercial? This last week has been ridiculous!!! PLEASE, PLEASE FIX THIS PROBLEM BEFORE ALL YOUR SUBSCRIBERS DIE WHILE THEY WAIT FOR A RECORD OR PAGE TO LOAD. It has not escaped my attention that as I use your service, each page I load comes up SLOWER and SLOWER. Are you attaching too many tracking cookies? I have tried clearing them and it doesn’t help much. I can sign off, reboot my computer, sign on again and then I am much faster at first, until the whole process repeats itself again!! It’s maddening and EXTREMELY TIME CONSUMING!!! I would have my entire family tree done right now if it were not for the SLOW SLOW SLOW page loading. I have premier ISP service and I fly everywhere but here. HELP!!! SPEED IT UP PLEASE!!!! It does not encourage me to correct bad records on census either!! Please fix the BASICS like SPEED and ACCURACY ON SEARCHES BEFORE YOU ADD NEW TOYS THAT ARE ONLY GOING TO MAKE YOUR SYSTEM SLOWER!!!!

  17. Sharon

    I just signed up for and will not be going any further than my 14 day free trial. When I want to search the 1850 census in Luzrene Co., PA for a particular name, I don’t want to look through 15000 records all over the world. If that person is not where I asked for – just tell me that and I’ll make up my own new search. This is crazy.

  18. Clarkbar1952

    I haven’t been able to input info onto my family tree because of an “error on Page”. Can you help??

  19. Connie

    I, too, have experienced the same problems with the search as the other people have. BUT, this sure beats reading rolls of unindexed microfilm. I’ve been chasing dead ancestors for 35 years, and what we have now is a vast improvement over the way things were.

  20. Donald Sleeper

    This is great, but when i found who I was lookin for, the only record was a private family tree and did not want contact. GRRRRRRR

  21. Selhawke

    I won’t be renewing my subscription until there’s a return to some of the “good old features” – like being able to find the UK Census returns without all the other stuff I never use and am never likely to use getting priority.
    When I eventually get into the UK Census returns I find they don’t work properly any more, like whole parishes now gone missing somewhere.
    Ancestry needs to stop trying to be clever and get back to basics.
    Presently the site is a mess!

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