Posted by Ancestry Team on March 7, 2014 in Ask Ancestry Anne

If you find you are getting too many results when you do a search, its time to try out name filters when you do a search. We have over 13 Billion records and making sure you narrow your search results down to a reasonable amount, is probably a good idea.

First you will need to be on advanced search.  It’s in the upper right corner of the search form.


Underneath the name boxes on the form, you’ll see “Use Default Settings” which loosely translates into anything close or in the case of first names, if everything else matches, this doesn’t have to.



First Name Filters

If you click on “Use default settings” link under First & Middle Name(s) you will be presented with a list of options:


You can choose a variety of options here.

  • Restrict to exact : returns only records with what you’ve typed in. Be sure you are asking for what you want.
  • Phonetic : if it sounds the same or close, we will return it, such as Catherine and Katherine.
  • Similar meanings : William, Will, Bill, Billy and Wm all stand for some sort of William. This matches them all.
  • Initials : For those pesky records where the record keeper decided an initial was just enough.

Last Name Filters

Last name filters have similar options:


  • Restrict to exact : returns only records with what you’ve typed in. Be sure you are asking for what you want.
  • Soundex: This is really in here for historical reasons. It is a algorithm used to compress last names to a series of similar sounds.  For more, you can read the Soundex entry on Wikipedia
  • Phonetic : if it sounds the same or close, we will return it like Smyth and Smith
  • Similar meanings : Schmidt and Smith

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne


  1. 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?

  2. Peggy Trojan

    This new search method SUCKS! It is so aggravating that I’m ready to cancel my membership. I’ll try to be patience to see if things improve within a month or so – then I may cancel my membership after 17 years of being a member. Please get the bugs out…

  3. silvia

    I cancelled my membership yesterday, this new search is pure rubbish! Okay if ive got all night to waste on thousand of useless results.

  4. Diane

    What was wrong with the old search? You could specify exact matches or not, entered the name you were searching and you got your results. Now, with all your default settings, why do we have to go through all of this to try and get the same results as the old search? The old search was a much simpler and easy to use search engine.

  5. Rocco

    It appears Ancestry’s Facebook page is the place to complain about the search function.

    The search function, beside the convoluted format, is full of bugs. I have been running the same search over the past week, and the returns continue to confound me. I’m not being paid to test the function, otherwise I would waste more time and publish the findings.

  6. Char

    I’m confused. Sometimes I wonder if Ancestry looks the same for everyone, or if somehow I have a different program than the one some people are upset about.

    All the options discussed here have been what I have been using since I joined Ancestry almost 2 years ago. The search box looks exactly the way it did before they added the slider overlay to it the other day.

    The slider overlay can be ignored. As best as I can figure, it doesn’t do anything that can’t be done by clicking the EDIT SEARCH button. It just saves some time when making changes to the most important of the search criteria. If you change the criteria using the sliders, then click the UPDATE button to have it search with the changes.

    The guts of the search system has been having some very odd glitches recently but I have heard they are mostly corrected. Apparently the filters were filtering things OUT instead of letting them in.

    Debbie, I have noticed several drop down options boxes not always opening recently too. Not so much in the past few days. I do hope they fixed it. I agree it was beyond frustrating.

    I usually select exact plus the first two options to include for the first name, and exact plus all three options for the last name. I rarely use the button marked default, which means default only. I don’t get good results with it.

    If I get far too many returns and they are nothing like what I am looking for, I will go back and uncheck one or two of them and see what I get.

    I very rarely get good results if I check exact first and last name, without also checking one or more of the include options.

    Hope this helps a few,


  7. Tracy

    I have to agree, the new search is very hard to understand. I appreciate them adding the categories awhile back, and I’ve been able to simulate the old search a little. I just get so frustrated that genealogy is no longer fun for me, at least on Now it’s a chore.

  8. Katie

    The new search engine absolutely blows! I have been here since 1998, and this is the biggest disaster that has ever produced. I am very proficient in finding information. This is a bomb.

  9. Vickie

    I just don’t like the new search, sure you added in a couple of things from old search, but it is still a pain in the butt to find anything. I have been with Ancestry since the very beginning and I have always been able to find things, but now it takes twice as long, by the time you wade through all the junk.

    Also, I have been trying and trying to figure out a way with this new search, but why can’t we go right to a census year, then put in the state and then the county and do a search? I always did it that way with old search and just looked in a specific county, but so far I can’t find a way to do that with the new search. I don’t won’t to look at page by page, I want to search on a name.

    I am a professional researcher so I know what I am doing and I am also quite comfortable with computers and different software, but this new search is just a joke. I have talked to a number of other researchers who have used Ancestry for years and they all think the same thing.

    If something works why do you have to try and fix it???

  10. Dusty

    The search function CAN be great but I find that it (and the entire database) has a huge fault somewhere. I know that I am in at least 8 trees. I did a search for myself using all the as ancestry filled it in when I selected myself from the suggestions. I filtered it to “Family Tree”, Guess what, “NO GOOD RESULTS FOUND”
    Just one more reason I cancelled my subscription.

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