Posted by Ancestry Team on March 6, 2014 in Ask Ancestry Anne

It seems like now is a good time to update some of my favorite search tips.

Let’s start with my favorite search filter. Sure it may never have occurred to you to have a favorite, but I find this one incredibly useful.

When you are in search form and you start typing in a location, you will see our type ahead suggest a list of places for you.

Choose from this list.  This allows us to quickly identify everything we know about that place.

image03 Once you’ve picked the place, you can then click on “Use Default Settings” underneath.

If you choose “Restrict to this place exactly” the place you’ve identified must match exactly.  So if you entered, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, USA, and checked Restrict to this place exactly, you will not get matches for just Cook County, Illinois, USA.

If you choose County, then you will get matches for both the city and just the county, as well as other cities in that county.  And if you don’t find your person in those locations, you might try expanding to county/adjacent counties.  You don’t need to know what they are or if they crossed state lines, we know, and we will search them.

If you just choose state and have Chicago, Cook, Illinois as your location, we will match those locations that are in Chicago first, but as long as the state is Illinois is in the location, it matches.

Give this one a spin.  By adjusting this you can expand and contract your searches easily to locate those elusive records.

And if you got about 5 minutes, check out this short YouTube video where I do a quick demo for you — Five Minute Find: Location, Location, Location.

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne


  1. I use this feature all the time–it is one of my favorite ways of narrowing a search.

    Remember that not all places are in the master list, however. For example, when I want to search for someone from my great-grandparents hometown of Orero, GE, Italy, there is no “Orero” in the master list. BUT–it doesn’t matter! I just use “Orero” and “restrict to this place exactly” and I get over 6000 hits (all databases), and can go from there.

  2. Laurice Johnson

    Since I no longer have the option of “Old Search” as of today, I am having to learn how to navigate this search. What I didn’t like about “NEW search” (and now my only search option) is that I have to completely structure the search parameters EACH time I search. I am at the point in my research (20 plus years) that I KNOW where I want to search and the time frame I want to search in. Is there a way to set up the search function so that it ALWAYS defaults to exact search, with the location set-up the way you described – so that I ONLY have to input a name (usually a surname either with wild-cards or exact spellings), and location and NOT get 3 million results (like it did today when I tried it out).

    This search is VERY frustrating to me because I have to spend a LOT of time setting it up EACH time I try it. Please consider a “save settings” function for the search page…..Please let me design my own ‘default’ settings that work for me.

  3. Rina

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Researching through has always been my favourite pastime. I used it everyday. You have finally broken my addiction by inflicting this cumbersome, frustrating, just plain useless new search engine.

  4. Nancy

    I agree EXACTLY what Laurice Johnson says above. Way too cumbersome and complicated for those of us that know where we want to look. I have to say I hate the new search function, i have tried using it from the beginning of testing and always went back to the old search.

  5. Nancy Bond

    also, one of the database i use often is the Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003. you can not search this by exact date anymore and you can not select birth, death or marriage anymore. Searching by just name and year will not get you what you are looking for. Obits are as you know one of the best ways to get info on family members.

  6. Debbie Pelletier

    I’ve used the “Use Default Settings” for quite some time with great results. HOWEVER, for the past week or so when I click on it nothing happens. The drop-down doesn’t open. Any suggestions or is this a glitch?

  7. observer

    I really wish I actually understood the reasoning behind dropping Old Search and making this new search “mandatory.”

    For novices it must be mind bendingly complex to even get started. For more experienced users, it is cumbersome and clunky. Last evening I did a ‘test case’ hunt for myself and to get the info I could get with one click on old search, I spent the better part of my search fine tuning it to get what I was looking for… and I KNEW what I was looking for. If I hadn’t known the results before I started my search, I would have never uncovered the result.

    I would have rather seen a change in ancestry that would necessitate sourcing family trees posted to primary sources and documents. The proliferation of incorrect trees is pretty bad.

  8. Jane Ailes

    New search, with the restriction of using only the drop down menu of location names, does not function for researching West Virginia counties prior to the formation of West Virginia from Virginia in 1863. None of the WV counties are listed in the drop down list as Virginia counties. For instance, searching on Hampshire, WV only returns a list of census records for 1870 through 1940. Hampshire, VA is not an option on the drop down location list.

    The drop down menu of location names is also a problem in searching records where the county name is misspelled in the original record, or there is an error in transcription. The birth place field in the U.S. Colored Troops Service Records is a good example of this issue. In Old Search, we could use wild cards to address the misspellings.

    If there is a work around in New Search for these location issues, please post an explanation as a blog article.

  9. Nancy M.

    The new search feature wastes my valuable research time when I have to filter through so much unwanted information. I not only research my own family lines, but for others as registrar for my DAR chapter. The new search feature is NOT an improvement to my research on

  10. Bonnie

    I wish that when you choose to SEARCH RECORDS from an individual’s overview page and the Search populates from their information that it would use the LOCATION information from the individual’s record for the narrowing of the search. Instead, I have to re-type the LOCATION information and chose the exact same location in order to “activate” the search filter pull down.
    EXAMPLE: Jane Doe was born in Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, USA and this populates her BIRTH LOCATION. But, the pull down filter only provides the chocies of “exact” or “default”. The other filters ares not activated until “Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, USA” is re-typed.

  11. Carollyn Simpson

    I agree with Laurice and all of those commenting on the AWFUL aspects of the New Search. I usually use Ancestry every day but I probably won’t renew since using the New Search takes forever compared to the Old Search. Researching is no fun anymore and I agree that my addiction is now broken. Evidently the person who designed the New Search cares nothing about time or the people who have been loyal members for years.

  12. Jean Hollars

    Totally frustrating!! (1) Tried the “adjacent counties” for Spartanburg County, SC. Got results in VA! Really? Show me that map. (2) Working through a list of records. Clicked on a record for a closer look. Returned to the list of records and I’m returned to the top of the list – not where I left off. Additionally, there is no change in color to indicate which record I looked at. What a waste of time!

  13. Rick Bisker

    Ancestry really needs to allow the filtered search function to stay at the users last setting until the user wants to change it again. I am spending toooooooo much time having to start over on every search I do. I make a filter adjustment and then continue the search, only to find out it has defaulted one of the filters and I get to many results out of what I thought I had the settings on. There are way too many settings to remember to reset for every search! HELP US PLEASE!

  14. Barbara Belger

    This will be my last subscription to Ancestry now that Old Search “is no more.” The “new” system to which you have forced seasoned researchers is a waste of time. For novice researchers, you are overwhelming them with often useless information that the old, I suppose to you, SOUNDEX system would have handled. I KNOW who I want to find and normally WHERE I want or need to find them. I do NOT intend to waste my time re-setting parameters for every search, nor do I wish to wade through thousands of useless records.

  15. Edith Marks

    I’ve been with since the year after it started and for 14+ years have been addicted to searching for ancestors on has just about cured my addiction, this new search is the very worst “improvement” you’ve ever made. The new search is very frustrating, time consuming, inaccurate and probably 50 more words I could use. I’m not a novice, I’ve know for years how to find what I need in very little time, I cannot imagine how new researchers feel trying to find what they need. I spend more time on other websites looking for records now that has taken away the old search. I guess you don’t need your old loyal subscriber’s money any longer!

  16. Ken Hinds

    What I don’t like about the type-ahead location box is that it contains entries that can’t possibly be right. If I’m searching the database “Tennessee State Marriages 1780-2002”, why does the location list have Louisiana, China, Africa, etc? Why should those be available choices when it’s guaranteed there will be no matches? And even more of a hassle, if I’m looking for a marriage in Washington Co TN, it doesn’t show up in the list when I type just “Wash”, or even “Washington”. I have to type “Washington County, T” before it shows up.

    OK, so I’m a retired programmer and I know why. The box is just an object you drop on any page, and its lookup code points to a huge table with all known locations. But that’s the “lazy programmer” approach, easy to develop but cumbersome to use. I always took the opposite approach. If I spend 20 hours to shave 2 seconds off a user interaction, that will pay off after 36,000 interactions. With a couple of hundred users doing this interaction even a few times a day, that takes almost no time. (And arguably it pays off sooner because the user’s time is more valuable than mine.)

    And in this case it wouldn’t be that much work to do it the other way. Just have a separate location index table for each database. The location lookup box then just needs to know what database it’s in, and use the corresponding index. (And you could use index number 0 for the huge overall table.)

    This also solves two other problems that have been mentioned. The West Virginia counties that were originally in Viriginia would show up in the list whenever relevant. Also, the misspelled or mistranscribed variations would show up wherever they occur.

  17. Karen Wilson

    This new search is a mess, takes way too long to do any searches, way toooooooooo much info. The old search was so easy to use, even if you only had a first name and location. I have been a member since 2000 and have become totally frustrated with this. I use to enjoy spending my time working on my trees, now I am just ticked off with this. Don’t think I will be staying with ancestry much longer

  18. Susan

    Well, I followed your link from facebook to arrive here. Doesn’t really resolve the problems found with current search, and judging by the responses here – not for anyone else either.

    Ken’s suggestion makes a lot of sense, so Ancestry, if you say that you appreciate feedback, why not actually listen, and more to the point, act to repair or replace the faulty product.

  19. Susan

    Perhaps I should also point out that I’m not impressed with being told to go watch videos in order to carry out searches which I have been managing to do for several years.

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