Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on August 12, 2010 in Site Features

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be making a number of changes to the new search forms. We hope to make searches more flexible, and in response to your feedback we have improved some searches that were hard to do. You can get a sneak preview of some of these at the search update guided tour which you can find at Tour of Upcoming Changes.

This week, we’ve launched the first of these changes to the forms, which provides some new ways to enter details of family members into your search.

There are two main differences:

  1. We’ve split the names from just one name box into two, supporting first name and last name.  This can be really important if you’re searching for a marriage record and don’t know the maiden name of the spouse.
  2. We’ve added in the ability to simply add more relationships based on what you know, for example if you know multiple siblings – this helps to quickly create a really powerful search query.

One more thing. If you are using advanced search we’ll also allow you to select exact for either the first or last name of a mother or a father.

To find this, you need to click the “Tell us more to get better results” link at the bottom of the search form

If you click on that link, you will see under “Lived In (Residence) and Marriage Info, the Family Member section:

You will see that you can choose from Father, Mother, Spouse, Child or Sibling. To add more than one, click the “Add Row” box.

If you are in advanced search, you also can choose Exact Only on Father or Mother. Remember if you choose exact only, the record must have that value — so if a record doesn’t have a Father in it and you choose it as exact, then we won’t return it.

You will also find this update on all family member areas on category and data collection forms.
Vital Records

Vital Records often have wonderful relationship data in them — specifying family members in your search query will help us narrow down the results we give you.

Lets say you have one of those common ancestor names, William Smith, and you are trying to find out who he married. You start at the Birth, Marriage and Death form and you are in the advanced form, because you like to take advantage of our name filters.

You enter William as a first name, and set the filters to “exact, phonetic, similiar and initials” because you know William has a lot of variations.

You enter Smith as a last name, and set the filters to “exact, phonetic, and similiar”.

You also know that Williams father was named John and his mother’s name was Mary. So you scroll down to where you enter Family Members and enter that information. I recommend that you do not start with exact, you never know which pieces of information are recorded or indexed for family members and it’s a good idea to start with using this information as a way for us to rank records instead of excluding records.

Press “Search” and you’ll see records from everywhere, and over 800,000!

It’s a good time to refine your search and take advantage of our location filter. Press “r” on your keyboard for “refine search”, and let’s say you know William was probably married in Ohio..use the type ahead and start typing ohio:

Select Ohio, USA, then click on “Use default settings” and choose one of the filters, say “Restrict to this place exactly” and perform your search.

Now you have 83 records to look at, which is probably easier to handle. And if you want to drill down to Marriage records, click on the “Marriage & Divorce” link on the right and that is what we shall select for you to look at.

One important caveat here

When we used to search family members, we didn’t search last names, just first and middle names. So we are in the process of indexing all the family member last names on the site. We have over 4 billion records, so it may take us a week or two to get caught up. So if you type in a last name and choose exact and get no results, it means we haven’t indexed family member last names on that collection yet. I’ll let you know when we are caught up.

Happy Searching!

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.


  1. works great. i ran numerous searches earlier today, the new search screen does make it easy.
    previously, i was getting good search results in my own cumbersome way, but with this new interface it will be much easier.

  2. Chuck Willford

    I’m confused. New Search has been that way for weeks?? Except for the family member dialog is new. All the other things have been there. And the hot keys like “r” refresh do not work from within FTM! Never have!


  3. PamDj

    What a pity that this excellent feature hasn’t been added to the old search, which presents the results in a much clearer, more readable manner.
    Another point is that it would be useful to be able to search for unrelated people in the same household. Several of my ancestors have taken their lodgers with them when they moved, and in a couple of cases I have only found them by searching for the lodger!

  4. Jade

    John, #6, if you click on the “restrict to exact” link under any name, you will find the Soundex option.

    At present, the “default” search for both Old Search and NewSearch ~infuriatingly~ returns Soundex results, ranked equally with the name as you entered it.

    Since Soundex search is an ~option~ within “exact” for both Old Search and NewSearch, making it part of default-searching is exasperating and frustrating. I do not want “Smith” when I am searching for “Sandy,” or “Barnhouse” and 50 different Polish names when sarching for “Barnes.” I should not have to resort to numerous wildcard combinations and “exact” searching just to get around the “Soundex” idiocies. This makes me growl and raises my blood pressure, not to mention thinking bad thoughts about whoever had this included in the default-search code some months ago.

    Please, please, get rid of it in ‘default’ searching.

  5. BEE

    How do I get a tree that I go to frequently to appear in the drop down list? I’m sure it was there before, but now I have to keep going down the list to “more” – which brings up my list of trees in alphabetical order – to access it.
    Also, there are times when the “Return to” feature is missing, so in order to get back to a tree, I have to go back to the drop down list, and with that tree in particular, I have to go through the whole process of scrolling down to “more”, etc.
    I know I could use the “back button”, but if I’ve been looking for and at documents, it could be a number of pages. There must be an easier way.
    So far, being able to add sibling’s names with “new search” hasn’t helped me in searching for census records. I do continue to try it now and then, although I agree with #5 “old search – presents the results in a much clearer, more readable manner”.

  6. Jade

    PamDj, re: your #5, you are right that having to specify limited types of relationships for others in the household is a weakness in this new feature.

    Grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or boarders (I ran into one yesterday where the boarders were actually widowed son-in-law and grandchild to the head of household) or in-laws may be the only correctly-indexed persons. It would be a boon to have a slot for just a person’s name without specifying a relationship.

  7. Jade


    Thanks for introducing the new features so clearly. The additional-name combinations, in particular, will be very useful for many.

    Thanks also for noting, “Remember if you choose exact only, the record must have that value — so if a record doesn’t have a Father in it and you choose it as exact, then we won’t return it.”

    This can’t be emphasized too often when explaining items about NewSearch. This exclusionary element is a bug, very confusing for those who are not aware of it. I hope it will be fixed in the future.

  8. Bee Re: #8

    This won’t get that tree into the dropdown as you’d like it but it will get it to where you can get to it in one click.

    1). Go to the tree in question and click on “View Family Tree” right beside the tree name at the top of the page.

    2). on the next screen click on “Tree Overview” in the line of links right below the tree name.

    3). Once the Tree Overview comes up just bookmark that page with you browser.

    4). You can then put that bookmark on your browser bar so it is always in view and get to the tree with one click.

  9. P Boen

    I was in the middle of working on my tree, and suddenly it isn’t available, “Check back soon, thanks for your patience”. I check the blog and SURE ENOUGH you are rolling out another “improvement”. How come EVERY TIME you bring out a supposed “improvement” your system crashes? Last time this happened, the whole site was down for days, either you could search and not access the tree or you could access tree but not search. Thanks a LOT. I for one would prefer that you would use the money that I spend in expanding record collections, not in screwing around with your site and making it crash. You would THINK that after having this happen numerous times you would be a lot more cautious when you introduce something new. >:-( and not do it in the middle of the day when most of your US users are using the site! [and for the record, if I am going to spend my time indexing for free, I am going to do it for a service that provides my work free to others. Funny how those services don’t seem to have the system crashes… I don’t recall ANY of my free sources being unavailable.

  10. John H

    Site is down — at least that part that involves seeing/editing your tree — I assume it is unplanned since nothing is posted and there is ahow on NBC tonight. Would be nice if they would post fact they know it is down and a ETA for when they expect to be up again.

  11. Sara G

    Also Ancestry shoebox is down. Never fails to give me a fright when I can’t access the shoebox and my 2,000+ records there (yes, I am very behind in data entry into my genealogy program).

  12. Barb L

    It is *extremely* frustrating to have the day off and then discover that I cannot work on two MYCANVAS projects.
    I think should extene our subscription service for one week past the expiration date!

    I agree that this happens far too frequently.

  13. John H

    It came back abt 100p (MT) for a few minutes — was quite slow — then went down again and now to’s credit — there is at least posting saying it is down, pointing to a blog that is not yet up — I am sure it is unplanned with the show on NBC tonight.

  14. Pat

    GRRR….I have afternoon off to do some work on ancestry and it is up & down, up & down.

    Post a blog entry as stated.

  15. robin_78

    Help Ancestry! The site was down, but now back up. Since then, I cannot modify or delete residences from my tree. Would you PLEASE put this feature back?


  16. Wilfredo F

    I am really a little disappointed that there hasn’t been much of an effort made to include the ancestry of people from Puerto Rico. PR is never listed as part of the US, which it is, a commonwealth true, however the people of Puerto Rico have been citizens of the US since 1917.

    I have seen this complaint more often than I’d like to on, and I have seen little effort to rectify this omission.

    The history of PR is tied with the growth of the United States for centuries. Puerto Ricans even fought in the Revolutionary War under the sovereignty of Spain against the British.

    I have found some information on this site, and have been happy to do so, but I do find it sad that we are not included on any or your maps, even as we get closer to becoming an actual state. Why is that?

    I suppose I could refer to vital records in PR for more information about my family, but that hardly seems necessary considering there are so many records from other countries that make it easy for my fellow Americans to find information on your site.

    As a paying member of your site, I feel that our people’s records should be as extensive as every other immigrant to the States.

    I am first generation here in the states. I was born and raised in this country, but I know that my ancestry goes back to the Canary Islands (a country of which one of your Customer Service operators had never heard of by the way), and more than likely some of my ancestry hail from Spain herself. In addition, as we are of mixed heritage, perhaps some of my ancestry were a part of the middle passage as we have African blood as well running through us.

    But who knows? We may be more European than we think. But the shortage of information, and the lack of inclusion is disheartening to say the least.

    Is going to make more of an effort to include the history of the Caribbean as part of the history of the US?

  17. Jerry Bryan

    It appears to be a great new feature, but I can’t get it to work at all this morning. If I choose a family member, the boxes for the First Name and Last Name are grayed out and will not accept input. It’s correct that the First Name and Last Name boxes should be grayed out before I select a family member such as Father or Mother. But what’s happening is that the boxes are remaining grayed out even after selecting a family member.

    Oops, here is an update before I click “Add comment”. I usually use Firefox, and the failure is on Firefox. It works fine for me on IE. My Firefox is at Version 3.5.10.

    Jerry Bryan

  18. John

    #6 and #7, Actually the 1900 census has no “restrict to exact”, and this is absolutely crazy. I’ve used Ancestry for 14 years, and it gets worse and worse. I don’t like all the garbage, and know very well how to do every search imaginable to find results….it appears to me that this makes you spend far more hours on Ancestry than needed?? Is that the purpose?? I’m really upset at this. I can’t get it to do the old search routines, is that totally gone?

  19. Larry Van Wormer

    Just tried out some of the added features on “new search”. It’s getting better, but still has one big problem (unless, of course, I’m simply doing it wrong…): the data input does not remain in the fields. That is, I do a search, get some results, then want to make a change to fine-tune the search. When I go back to the search all of the original input has been cleared. How can I stop that happening? I’d like it all to remain in place, unless I clear it.

  20. TR

    Its down again….or still down since yesterday when I got kicked off???? Not cool to go down on a weekend.

  21. Larry Re:#26

    On the left sidebar is a menu of “hot keys” that can be used to do certain things.

    n = new search
    r = refine search
    p = previous search

    Try hitting “r” as see if that doesn’t do what you want.

  22. Larry Van Wormer

    Andy, thanks for the tip. No, the keys do not appear to work for me, maybe because I’m using the Seamonkey browser (works fine in all other respects), but the “Edit Search” button on the left hand side, top, of the search results page works just fine. Had not noticed that one… Oh well, eventually I learn.

  23. Lori

    Using: Firefox 3.5.11

    I can’t use the hotkeys (I usually use “r” all the time). When I use the “refine search” link, it clears out the information I’ve previously entered.

    I can’t restrict census searches to exact counties anymore.

    I am NOT impressed with this new search. At all. It’s now become 3x as difficult for me to find something, and takes way longer.

    Is there any way to get back the old search?

  24. Carol A. H.

    Lori #30

    In the New Search, on the upper right hand side, just below “Add to Quick Links, in a TINY font, there is Old Search which is underlinded. Click on that and you will switch back to the old search. In the Old Search, you can get back to the New Search in the same fashion. Very easy.

  25. Chuck Willford

    #’s 26, 28 & 30.
    The hot keys do not work if you are in FTM!!!!!!! Never have. They might work from within Ancestry, but I do not know as I don’t do my research that way.

    I’ve said this from an earlier post.

    It must that this is an Ancestry blog not a FTM blog????????????????


  26. Lori

    #31 Carol, I’ve clicked on the Old Search link, and I’m not getting the old search format. It’s still a new format with tabs and all that jazz. And it definitely does not work like the old search– If I drill down into a particular census year, I cannot restrict to exact.

    #32 Chuck, I am not using FTM. I am on the internet, accessing The hot keys DO NOT WORK for me. And if I click on the “refine” link, it clears out all the information I previously entered. If I enter information on the search page, and then click on “advanced search”, it clears out all the information I previously entered.

    HATE the new search. Sooooooo frustrating. Frustrating enough that I’m ready to ask for my money back because I can’t even use the search effectively anymore.

  27. Lori

    Using Firefox 3.6.7 at work– still had the same issues. Called ancestry this morning, and they said it’s a known issue of fields clearing out when you try to refine or go to the advanced search.

    But after complaining mightily to the poor support tech (who duplicated all the problems I’m having), he sent on suggestions to the web implementation team to look at.

    And after telling me that the old search was no longer available, suddenly it has appeared back the way it was (with a few tweaks) an hour later. Coincidence? 🙂

  28. Carol A. H.

    6:55 PM Pacific Time

    Lori #33:

    Sorry you are having a problem. I really don’t have an answer for you, except to talk on the phone with customer support. 1-800-262-3787 EASTERN TIME ZONE: 10 AM TO 6 PM Good luck.

  29. Kathleen Lynch

    This is a ridiculous step into a useless search form! I am absolutely frustrated, and I want my old access to the Indiana Marriages to 1941 back! In one column was the spouse 1, in the other column was spouse 2, the date, and the county of the marriage. It was possible to scan the columns to find the answer if you possessed only part of the information.I just tried to identify Mary A. Shelley’s spouse by using this search box. I had her father’s and mother’s names, the date of the marriage, and it was in Boone Co. I did NOT have the spouse’s name. It used to be easy to find — now I cannot do it, and I am frustrated and angry that you have taken away one of my most valuable resources on Ancestry beyond the census!

  30. Kathleen Lynch

    OK, I’ve calmed down. I have found the “Old Search” button and my precious chart is still there, and still accessible. Mary’s spouse was Augustus Denny, which showed up easily despite the mis-spelling of Mary’s last name and the omission in the chart of the marriage date in the correctly spelled line.
    Honestly, folks, this is a useful tool, and the new search box just doesn’t cut it!

  31. Lisa Daniel

    This feature is NOT working … clicking on the advanced search gives you a BLANK form… useless.
    I think you need some testers.
    Your site has a very bad user interface. You have to go back and forth, or have several monitors to use it adequately.
    That’s only the beginning.
    If you’re interested in getting an actual application designer to look at it, please let me know….

  32. Mary Beth Marchant

    In my opinion, the continual changes to New Search appear to signal that Ancestry does not know what to do so they just keep changing and crossing their fingers in hopes to somehow get it right one of these days.

  33. As has been said in the past, the changes to NewSearch are part of a long range plan that was previewed in a Tour available to all to see.

    Parts of that plan will be added at different times depending on several factors.

    Anyone who took that tour should know what is coming down the line- although they won’t know exactly when.

  34. Lee Maynus

    I’ve been using this improved feature since it was rolled out. It has certainly helped with obtaining more relevant hits than the former query method did. One trick Thank you!

  35. BEE

    Another PA WWI Draft card with a blank page – I think that makes three I’ve come across. I reported the first one a couple of years ago?
    The WWII cards still haven’t been corrected:
    “Note regarding the images for the states of PA, MD, WV, and DE. These four states were scanned at the National Archives facility in such a way that the back of one person’s draft card appears on the same image as the front of the next individual. The result is that when you click to view the original image, you will see the correct front side of the draft card, but the back of the previous soldier’s card. Ancestry is aware of this problem, and is working to correct this issue.”
    How many……years? before anything is done?

  36. Nonna

    I simply do not like the new search features. It always seems as if we just get used to using all the features in a new rollout of search and then Ancestry decides they’re going to “update” and make it better. Ha….

  37. Nonna

    Also, I agree with Leslie. Jumbling all the records to scroll through is a pain. It was much more useful to have the like records in separate boxes so you didn’t have to scroll through them all!

  38. Chuck Willford

    The location defaults to “default …..”. It doesn’t behave like the other search boxes in that it always reverts back to your settings!!!!!!!!!!!! Not my last used setting, like I want it and as the name choices.


  39. Lynn

    I dislike the new search for the same frustrations already mentioned by others. Also I would add that when I restrict the search to a certain US census year, as I type in a residence, the drop down list should not include Polish towns nor should it include any county or locale not in existence for that year. I prefer the old format where I could enter the state and county separately.

  40. BEE

    Sometimes the only way, is the “old fashion” way, especially when dealing with “ethnic” names! A search for a 1910 census using both “old search and “new search” for a family that arrived in 1907 to Pgh, PA brought no results.
    I first searched using each of the “ethnic” first names on the ship manifest, as well as the “American” names given on later census. I added, subtracted, “defaulted”, and “exacted” to no avail, besides finding it difficult to go back to the overview from “new search”, although it happens with “old search” at some point.
    I knew that this particular surname was misspelled on other census records, and the spelling was actually altered by the children later to match the spelling that appeared on their father’s naturalization papers, so he might have been the one to accept this simplified spelling – but there was nothing even remotely close.
    I thought this family might be living in the same ward as my great-grandparents, so I searched all 37 pages of that district, but still no luck.
    I was ready to give up, but being a persistent person, I started searching another district in that ward. After looking at a couple of pages, I decided to try the mother’s name one more time, hoping that “Julia” would not be changed or misspelled as the other names might be. Because I had no luck using the surname, I “old searched” by just her first name, year and place of year, and residence, and there she was – the very first name to appear, living in the very district I was about to search!
    The surname was totally misspelled, the father’s first name Ignacy was transcribed as “James” – and as I’ve seen so many times, the “American” first names for all but one of the children seemed to be picked out of a hat {sometimes the only connection to their ethnic name was the first letter}. With this particular family, on one census the son’s name is Harry – the next it’s Henry. Karol became Carl on one census, and Charles on another, ages were off by as much as 5 years, and a son was recorded as a daughter – something that happened to my own mother on a census, as well as to an uncle on another.
    I actually went back and tried to search for Julia with a spelling of the surname closer to how it appeared on the census record along with her date and place of birth{Poland} and residence Pgh, PA just to see what would happen, but both searches brought up such ridiculous information – instead of a Julia and similar surname born in Poland and living in Pgh, PA, the first name on the list was a Julia born and living in Ohio.
    With “New Search” – didn’t matter if I “restrict to” for “Julia” and “Pittsburgh, PA”, it still brought up the woman born and living in Ohio. Of course now that I found what I was looking for, it brings up the correct document.
    I just glad that I found so many documents with “old search” in the past, and I definitely prefer it over “New Search”.

  41. Jo

    Saw a report that someone couldn’t switch back to Old Search yesterday after switching to New Search.

    Anyone else having this problem?

  42. Lulu

    I am amazed that anyone would actually use the new search in preference to the old search. The results on the old search are much easier to scan through. Why Ancestry have spent time and money creating the new search and then ‘enhancing’ it is beyond me.

    Has anyone at Ancestry ever used the new search in anger…? It might be all right in testing, but not when you need to do creative searching to find someone who’s not ennumerated/indexed as expected, such as in Bee’s comment (#50) above.

    It’s definitely a retrograde step. Please please please, Ancestry – stop all this nonsense and take time to review your search offerings properly.

  43. Andy Hatchett

    Bee Re: #50

    If you are using New Search and are entering locations then you almost have to use locations from the drop down Menu – in your case “Pittsburgh, Alleghney, Pennsylvania, USA”

    Inputting terms such as “Pgh, PA” or “Pittsburgh, PA” will give unreliable results.

  44. P J Evans

    Old/new search: the site will, at random, use the new search, even though you have been using the old one. (And I also prefer the old search.)

    Is there any possibility of getting the newspaper/journal search set up to search by *location*? It’s a pain in the fundament to scroll through sixteen zillion screens to get to the one newspaper buried in the list that you know the article is in. And if there are two or three newspapers in one location, they won’t come up together when you have to go by newspaper name. (See, for example, Independence, Kansas, which at one time had *three* newspapers, even though they weren’t all daily. Or, more recently, two newspapers in many major cities.)

  45. BEE

    Hi Andy, while I can’t duplicate it now, because I have the 1910, 1920 and 1930 census for this family, I’m pretty sure it brought up – Pittsburgh Ward 4 Allegheny, Pennsylvania, or at least Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania in the residence box on “new search” after adding the name from my tree.
    Now I have to figure out if the “wife” with a different name on the 1920 census is the same “wife” on the 1910, and widowed on the 1930!
    btw, I’ve had no problem returning to “old search” after going to “new search”.
    Sorry, I just find “new search” tiresome!

  46. James

    I’m not that happy with these “improvements.” In fact it seems to make the use of searches more difficult. When searching now your display no longer mark the records you have already attached to an ancestor. You no longer see the tree information on children, spouses, and parents and are just show limited fact on the individual your searching for. Your search engine doesn’t seem to really use the data connected with an ancestor to look for more records and will show you census records of individuals alive well after your ancestor is dead and buried. If searching for Hervey Peter Lane born in 1833, for example, your search engine will bring up every Peter Lane before it will show you Hervey, Harvey, or Henry. If you change the search in the bottom fields to H. P. Lane, Hervey P. Lane, or any other possible listing he might be mistakenly filed under, all information as to how you were searching for disappears as if your searching for a new person. Now If you find something under this method, you must attach it via “attach to someone in my tree” and have to hunt that person down. All in all, it seems that these improvements are more designed to keep people searching your records then to help them find records through a search.

  47. BEE

    Ok, Andy, I put you to the top of my “most viewed” in my ancestry bookmarks, but in my humble opinion, my “senior” mind finds “new search” far too complicated and cluttered.
    As James #56 said, it’s more “search” then “find”.

  48. J. Fulmer

    No doubt about it … Old Search is still best. Old Search is more intuitive and provides the better starting point …i.e. the suspected living location. By contrast, New Search expects you to start with a birth date which most times one does not know. To me this is the root problem with New Search.

  49. Al Eagan

    I haven’t tried the new search feature yet but I don’t think it could be anything but an improvement. It would be nice if ancesty had a place to record an ancestor’s principle trade/occupation and a military service along with birth/death, marriages, residences in the life events section. I know ancestry has a military history section, and trade/occupation is found in the original census records. I have attached as many official records as I can find to the life event section in my tree, but,, in order to view something you have to open a differnt web page, like a census record that was saved to the tree.

  50. Why not just add occupation, military or any other event as a custom event in the person’s time line and attach the appropriate record as a source as you would any other event?

    Then it is all on screen and you click on the source to view it just like you do birth, marriage, or death.

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