Posted by Ancestry Team on April 21, 2010 in Website

This year one of the things we are focusing on is adding new ways for you to control what’s returned in your search results. Over the past few months, we have already launched improvements to wildcards, Collection Filters, and Record Type Filters

Earlier Tony Macklin announced that we will be launching a tour to give you a preview of changes to search.

Yesterday, I told you about our name filters which is one of our new filters we are launching to help you create better searches. Today, I’ll continue with place filters.

This option will be available on any text box in new search when you are in advanced mode. If you don’t choose a place from our type ahead, you will see the following options:

If you use “Exact matches only” you will default to “Restrict to this place exactly” and will the same as it has before.

The interesting options for place filters happens, when you choose a location from our place type ahead.

Filters options when you use the place type ahead

When you choose a place from the type ahead, this allows us to not only quickly identify that place in our record sets, but it also lets us make use of other useful information that we know about that place. If it’s a county, we now what state it is in and we know what the adjacent counties are.

So if you were to choose Appomattox County, Virginia, USA as a birth location, we know it is in Virginia and the counties adjacent to Appomattox are Amherst, Nelson, Buckingham, Prince Edward, Charlotte, and Campbell. And we know the states adjacent to Virginia, USA are Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. This allows us to create place filters that will enhance your search.

So once you choose Appomattox County, Virginia, USA, you will not only have the default settings and exact match available to you, you’ll be able to search Appomattox County and any adjacent county. Or restrict your searches to records that at least have birth locations in Virginia. Or Virginia and the adjacent states.

So how do place filters work

Let’s say you choose Oakland, California, USA as a birth location. You will see the following filters under the birth location search box:

You know the person you are searching for was born in Oakland, Alameda, California, USA, so you apply the filter “Restrict to this place exactly”.

This choice means the record must have exactly the same place, as the place you choose. If you have chosen Oakland, Alameda, California, USA for a birth place, but the record has a birth place of Alameda, California, USA then the record will not be included in your result set. So if you aren’t finding what you are looking for, you might try selecting “Restrict to this county” or “Restrict to this county/adjacent counties”.

Just because you know where something happened, doesn’t mean that is where it was recorded or how it was recorded in the record. The ability to adjust the scope of your search, will aid you in locating those hard to find records.

How each filter works

  • Default settings: If you choose default settings, there will be no filter applied. Records that match exactly what you chose get the most points; records that partially match the location you choose get some points, records that are adjacent to your chosen location get fewer points and if there is no match, no points. These points are then added to other points we gave this record based on the information you gave us and then they are used to rank that records against other records in your result set.
  • Restrict to this place exactly: If you choose this, then the record must have exactly the same place, as the place you choose. If you have chosen Oakland, California, USA for a birth place, but the record has a birth place of Alameda, California, USA then the record will not be included in your result set.
  • Restrict to this county:If you choose “Restrict to this county”, and you have chosen Oakland, California, USA for a birth place, and the record has a birth place of “Alameda, California, USA” this will be considered a match, and the record can be included in the result set. If the record had Fruitvale, Alameda, California, USA as the location, it would also be included, because you chose to restrict at the county level. But because it’s not an exact match, this result would not rank as high in your result set.
  • Restrict to this county/adjacent counties: Sometimes the closest court house was in the next county, not in the county where your ancestor resided, and they may have recorded an event there. By choosing this option, we not only will match the county you’ve given us, but the counties that are currently adjacent to it. And state lines do not make a difference here. If the county is adjacent, we search it and we match it.
  • Restrict to this state: This works just like restrict to this county, except at the state level. If you have chosen Oakland, California, USA for a birth location, we will match any record that has a birth location in California. However, if the county or city matches, the result will appear higher in the result list.
  • Restrict to this state/adjacent state: This works like the county/adjacent county filter except at the state level.
  • Restrict to this country This works like the county or state filter, except at the country level.

What if I choose a county in England? What filters will I see?

Filters are based upon the location you have chosen. If you choose a county in England, we will allow you to filter at the county, country or the UK level. Filters are adjusted to match the country you are in.

Not a sticky option, except for “Match all terms exactly”
Because each filter set is dependent on the location you have chosen, this option can not be sticky unless you choose “Match all terms exactly” which will set your filter to “Restrict to exact”

When can I try these filters?
These filters will be available sometime on Thursday.

Happy Searching!



  1. Jeff Ford

    Yes, I agree. From the limited searching that I have done, it works pretty good. I am no longer getting results from England or Canada.

  2. No Anne, it’s not Happy Searching!

    OK, so I use type-ahead and accept:

    Shrewsbury, England, United Kingdom

    and chose “Restrict to County”. But what county?? Ancestry, in their infinite wisdom, have chosen to remove all counties from English places when using search-ahead!!! We do get the superfluous “United Kingdom”, presumably to help those Americans who are not quite clear as to where England is?

    So instead I chose “Restrict to Country”. But which country, “England” or “United Kingdom”??? They are very different concepts.

    The above notes in the Blog state:

    What if I choose a county in England?”

    But what if I chose a county in Wales, Scotland or Ireland? Does this not apply???

    Perhaps it’s time for a geography lesson for the Ancestry team?

  3. Andy Hatchett

    While the UK is a political entity I’m not certain I’d call it a country per se.

    I think it is this that throws a lot of people off… including some indexers.

  4. The “improved search” is actually making things tougher for me – and seems to have an error!! In the past I could look at a specific census year and a County, State, USA (exact) and quickly find what I needed. Today I searched for Elias Mayer in 1870 and I know he was in Schuylkill County, PA – so I did County and surrounding (since County alone was not an option). The search picked a random county (I think Luzerne) and surrounding counties – NONE were in Schuylkill at all????????? Whats up?? On an earlier one – I was able to look a COUNTY ONLY – Schuylkill was in the residence – it searched ONLY CHESTER County, PA??? What a mess – Give us the option to go back!

  5. I absolutely love “Restrict to Adjacent Counties”. It will save me bunches of time especially on those confused ancestors that lived in that 8 mile stretch along the top of Tennessee that was in dispute with Kentucky for decades. I just search for Macon County, Tennessee and low and behold! I automatically get Allen County, Kentucky plus other surrounding counties I never bothered to check before.

    Anne, Could you explain “Add another location”? I did a “Restrict to Adjacent Counties” search as my primary, but then tried to add a location for where they moved to in Texas after that. No luck!

    Then I tried using the “Default settings” for my primary location and the results made more sense.

    I would prefer to have all the place filters for each location. Search should use “OR” between the place search terms. For example, I want results from Macon County, Tennessee and adjacent counties “OR” Smith County, Texas and adjacent counties because I’m not quite sure which of those 2 locations they lived in for a particular census year. It would save a little time by searching both locations at once.

    Now for a pet peeve. Please, please please add “Lived In (Residence)” to the Advanced Search Box. I get so tired of clicking on “Tell us more to get better results” on almost every search that I do!


  6. Hi Anne
    The new search options seem to work, however I have a question about a specific set of records. The 1850 and 1870 US Census collections have Tarrant County Texas, the 1860 does not, and nowhere can I find information that would show missing records.

    Can someone let me know what happened to this set of records.


  7. Sarah L.

    Tony #8, Tarrant County is one of 16 Texas counties listed as missing from the 1860 Federal census according to Val D. Greenwood’s book “The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy”. There are some 1860 tax rolls available for Tarrant County, so you might check those for the person you’re looking for.

  8. Jade

    Keith #6, you do have the option to select one County only in the “lived in” field. The options in the drop-down list are:

    Use default settings
    Restrict to this place exactly
    Or restrict to just:
    county/adjacent counties
    state/adjacent states

    I tried your search for 1870 US Federal Census, Schuylkill County, USA (exact place only) and got no results by the spelling “Elias Mayer” but with wild card (searching for M*er) there were two results indexed as “Moyer” as well as Millers, etc., all in Schuylkill County.

  9. Jade

    Janet, #7 — On the NewSearch page for the US Census generally and for selected enumerations (I did not check all), I had no trouble adding a second location after selecting one County ~and adjacent counties~.

    I could not select “adjacent counties” for the second location. Is this what your problem is?

    If you are unable to select a second “lived in” site for a particular enumeration, giving what your search specifics were (and if you still have this problem) would be helpful for trouble-shooting.

  10. Beth Proctor

    For years I have used Ancestry with great results, I have tried the new search and absolutly do not like it. I feel like with the subscription fees I pay, I should be able to easily search like always and should have the option to search using the old method
    I agree: What a mess – Give us the option to go back!

  11. Re: Beth Proctor #12. You probably know this already, but you can still use Old Search. The ability to select Old Search vs New Search is not available from the Home page, but it is available from the main Search page and from most of the other Search pages. Once you select Old Search, remembers the option for your account (it is a “sticky” option), and you shouldn’t have to specify it again.

    As one of the most severe critics of New Search when it was first released, I would urge you to give it a second look. has made many, many improvements to New Search since it was first released. The most recent round of improvements includes improved filters for both places and names. Indeed,this very thread is about the improvements in the place filters. There are still several areas where Old Search produces a better searching experience than New Search, but the recently released features in New Search are great and they are not available in Old Search at all.

    I assume from your comments that you are an experienced researcher. To that end, I would strongly recommend that if you are using New Search that you turn on the Advanced option and look at some of the new features that are available for filtering places and names. (Actually, I recommend that *everybody*, including the newest newbie, turn on Advanced. The so-called “Advanced” features are not rocket science and they are very intuitive.)

    I would also recommend that you make note of the fact that there are two options available in New Search for displaying search results from a global search. One is called Summarized by Category and the other is called Sorted by Relevance. I personally use Summarized by Category about 100% of the time, but Sorted by Relevance is the default. If you like Old Search, you might try switching to Summarized by Category. That would probably give you a search experience much more like you are accustomed to seeing with Old Search. Summarized by Category is a sticky option that you only have to specify once if you never want to change it. You do have to specify Summarized by Category after your first search with New Search because it only appears on the results page. There is no way to specify it at the beginning of the search.

    Happy searching,
    Jerry Bryan

  12. Thanks Sarah #9 – you’d think that Ancestry could provide that information in the description, they did a great job on the 1851 UK census, listing areas where the images were lost through flooding.


  13. Pat Johnson

    I have taken your “tour” and think it is a mess…more decisions and missing census that used to be simple to find. Put it back to basic and let the people’s voice be heard!! I have belonged to Ancestry since 1994 and I am seriously considering dropping my subscription. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

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