Posted by Amy Johnson Crow on May 16, 2014 in Website

You know how they say you should always read the introduction to a book? The same is true for the databases you use. The more you know about a record that you’re looking at, the better your research will be. The more you know about a collection, the better your searches will be. (Sounds like learning about the records you’re using is a good idea!) Collection descriptions are a great resource and one that you should add to your genealogy toolkit.

What’s in a Collection Description

Background of the Collection. Knowing why the records were created helps you to understand the full meaning of the record. It can help you evaluate whether or not your ancestor should be included. In the description for London, England, Clandestine Marriage and Baptism Registers, 1667-1754, we learn about marriage laws for this time period in England and what it means for a marriage to be “clandestine.”


Source. It’s always good to know where a record came from. Here we see that Indiana, Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 is a combination of a marriage index done by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Jordan Dodd.


Coverage. Sometimes there are gaps in a collection. The collection description will help you see those. For example, because of how the WPA put together the Indiana marriage index, not all years for all counties are included. Let’s say that your family was from Lawrence County, Indiana. The records in this collection include Lawrence County from 1818-1834. If you don’t find your Lawrence County people in this collection, it doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t married there. They may have gotten married after 1834 and aren’t in this collection.


Search Tips. Some collections are a little bit different in how you should search them. Ohio, Deaths, 1908-1932, 1938-2007 is one of them. The data from the Department of Health cut off the first names after seven letters. The collection description describes this.


Other Information. Some descriptions contain links to additional resources and related collections.

Finding the Collection Description

When you search a specific collection, scroll down past the search form. You can also get to it from a specific record. In the information under the “Save This Record” is a link to “Learn more.” Click that link and you’ll get to the main for that collection; scroll down below the search form and you’ll  see the full description.


Amy Johnson Crow

Amy Johnson Crow is a Certified Genealogist and an active lecturer and author. Her roots run deep in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states. She earned her Masters degree in Library and Information Science at Kent State University. Amy loves to help people discover the joys of learning about their ancestors and she thinks that there are few things better than a day in a cemetery. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Amy Johnson Crow.


  1. How about making the search engine less like the Texas Railroad Commission where if you don’t know what you’re looking for already, you probably will never find it. Your new search algorithm has got to be one of the most user friendly and inexact search engines in existence. I have no idea whom you paid to design it, but they had absolutely no idea how to design an effective search engine.

    I used to use Ancestry for most of my searches and supplemented them with After you forced that abomination of a new search algorithm upon us, it is now the other way around.

    You took something that worked and broke it. You now have a multitude of unhappy subscribers. Amateurs who are just learning how to do genealogy are not helped by this new search engine. They never will learn how to properly source their information and make sure they have everything correct because they have no way of fact checking their search results. Nothing about your new search algorithm works properly.

    I really am disappointed in this new search algorithm and will not recommend people subscribe to Ancestry until this is fixed.

  2. BobNY

    Everything you say here becomes useless when Ancestry doesn’t actually deliver in the database what the description indicates should be there.

    For example – New York, New York, Birth Index, 1878-1909

    The description, with caveats, is as follows:
    Note that the index collection is not complete. The following are the currently available birth record indexes:

    Bronx, 1898 – 1909
    Brooklyn, 1880 – 1909
    Manhattan, 1878 -1909
    Queens, 1898 – 1909
    Richmond, 1898 – 1909

    I defy you or anyone else to find birth records that were registered as follows:
    Manhattan 1878 – 1900; 1908 – 1909
    Kings 1880 – 1900; 1908 – 1909
    If you search for Brooklyn — as the description references — you will get NO HITS.
    Queens 1898 – 1900; 1908 – 1909
    Richmond 1898 – 1900; 1908 – 1909
    Bronx in a hot mess.
    If you use the drop down menu choice “Bronx, Bronx, New York, USA” you get NO HITS.
    If you use the drop down menu choice “Bronx County, New York, USA” you will not get hits for 1898 – 1900; 1908 – 1909. You will get hits foir the other years, even though Bronx County did not exist until 1914.

    The only word that comes to mind to describe this situation is ABOMINATION.

  3. BEE

    My subscription of over soon, and yes I will renew, but if someone doesn’t do something about those – blasted sliders, I don’t know what I’m going to do! I’ve said it before and I will say it again: “old search” was so EASY to use. What you have now, I have to practically stand on my head to do anything! Slide one thing, and all you get is “Zero match”.
    And while I’m at it, I will again complain about the placement of that “Story View” tab. If it gets clicked on by mistake, it’s a pain to have to get rid of it to do anything!

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