Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on July 2, 2015 in Ask Ancestry Anne

Question: Are there any plans to update searching for specific public trees? —Phyllis

searchformAnswer: Last month I answered a question about using and trusting other trees you find on Ancestry, which led to a lively debate to say the least!   And I’d like to suggest another article that might shed some more light on the subject: Perils of Being a Source Snob, by Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL.

But how do you find trees that have your people in them?  While there are no plans to update tree searching at this time, with a few simple techniques, you can manage your results and find trees you want to examine further.

You’ll want to start with Public Member Trees (you can find a link in the Card Catalog).  Before you start searching any data collection you want to examine the search page and see what is on the search form.

To search trees effectively you need the name of the person you are searching for, at least one location, a date, and a spouse and/or parents.  If you don’t have all of those details, try with what you do have.  But in this case, the more information you have, the better.

Let’s try searching for a reasonably common name: James Donald.  If I type just James Donald into the form, I get over 200,000 results.  Way too many.


I’m going to add in wife’s name and birth date and birth location.  Now I have a little over 35,000 results.  Still too many to look at, but because I’ve supplied more info, I can start scanning the first page or two.



And by updating my filters I can reduce the results even more.  For first name, I select: sounds like, similar, and initials; for last name, sounds like and similar; for birth year, +/- 5 years; and exact for the birth state.  Note: I recommend starting with exact at the state level and only moving to county if you get too many results.  A lot of people know only the state.

Now I have 69 results, and that is probably a list I can examine.  If you want fewer, tighten up your filters. If you want more or aren’t getting results, make them broader.


And just because someone has a lot of sources doesn’t mean they are right, and not having any doesn’t make them wrong.  Always look at the tree and evaluate the sources and information for yourself.  You may just find the clue you need to break down your brick wall.

If you are looking for more search tips to help you get the most out of Ancestry, check out my latest class at Ancestry Academy: Seek and Ye Shall Find: Become an Ancestry Search Expert. It’s free for anyone to view; all you need is to be a registered quest or subscriber on Ancestry.

Do you have a question that you would like to see answered?  We can’t get to all of them, but yours might be selected! Send your question to Ask Ancestry Anne, and you might be featured in an upcoming column.

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. Anne wrote: “While there are no plans to update tree searching at this time…”

    That is very disappointing. I’ve lost count of the times people have emailed me saying their tree is called so-and-so and look it up at .

    But I can’t. I can’t search by tree name. Yet so many of the customers of seem to think people can find their trees by name.

    How hard could it be to make an index of tree names at ???

  2. Curr

    S_H I have the same problem. Everyone expects you to be able to find their tree with just the name.

  3. t

    Why start at the card catalog when family trees is a link on the main search result? At least by starting at the card catalog a person would be adding 2 more clicks to their search and that seems to be the New ancestry way to do everything.

  4. Allen

    All my trees are public at this time but they do not show up in my Public Profile. I have called Ancestry several times because no tree appears for a person who writes to me asking questions. Customer Service always tells me the back door way. Why not get it fixed so it works? So many problems with Ancestry and they spend their OUR money creating a new version, which has more problems than the OLD version. Time for us to cancel our memberships.

  5. Clinical_IT

    Having some IT background, it would be a logistical nightmare for the programmers to try and link all public trees that share the same family surnames. No thanks, I don’t like search results as it is now so please don’t make it any more complex than it is already :>

    On a different note, before I use any information from another’s tree, I open it to check out the sources used and any media they may have. This can be a wealth of information. For what it’s worth, I love the newer version of Ancestry.

    Thank for letting me voice my 2 cents.

  6. caith

    You are also missing a very important resource that Ancestry provides: Dna testing. Just think, you are dna connected to those trees provided by your matches. Hopefully, you will find a common ancestor/s and both of you have good documentation. To prove that your tree matches are correct, you can then do segment matching by uploading your raw data to GEDmatch. Why would you want to look at trees of those you are most probably not dna related to, when you could look at trees of those who you are dna related to? DNA testing at Ancestry and their resultant trees is Ancestry’s best kept secret!! I have more than 7,000 trees, and I have been through EVERY one of them.

  7. Christie

    I need to know how to search for a tree either by the Tree name or the Owner’s name. Is that even possible?

  8. ladybugjustice

    I agree with Allen. I sent a request but no response, probably for the same reason. I do not appreciate the “new” Ancestry as they take whatever info they find and put it down as “fact”. I have so much false information others have attached without my permission and this misleads others to copy this as true when it is not. HOW do I correct this? Thanks

  9. Jo

    I totally agree with ladybugjustice. I had to make my tree private because some guy took all my sourced info and combined it with his incorrect unsourced info on his tree, including photographs. This led to me getting nasty messages asking why I was posting incorrect information. I complained to Ancestry and asked that they make him remove my info from his tree but nothing was ever done.

  10. Larry Rusco

    Are there any resources available to translate from French and Old French records to English?

  11. Brandy

    French (or any language) translations can be copied and pasted to:

  12. Margie

    I just read the article mentioned above about being a source snob. I may be mistaken, but it seems that according to this article, I should just accept information in Family Trees and move on. Sorry. I have learned through my 50+ years of researching (I started at age 12) not to “just trust” someone else’s work. I have looked up ancestors in the trees and find 4 or 5 trees – all with different dates or places for the same event, so how can it trust that information? I do make not of the information in my sources, but trust primary sources first. I may be a source snob, but everything in my tree has a source for it. I want others to understand why I came to the conclusions I have for my information. I have also found I can find a specific tree by searching under the members name that’s given as the owner of the tree.

  13. Don Peck

    I like the new version of Ancestry. I do have some minor issues with navigation within the family tree, but am finding a way around. Like others, I don’t trust everything I find. If the reference goes back to fundamental documents, often with images of those documents, I usually accept them.

  14. Mary Dorough

    Ancestry spends too much time making changes that invariably make it more difficult to search. Could we have an option not to ‘update’??

  15. Jan Murphy

    Apologies for the “me, too!” comment, but I have also had the problem reported above where someone sends me a message to look for someone in their tree without giving me the name of the tree. I go to their public profile, and either the tree isn’t there, or it isn’t trivial to figure out which one they meant. It would be useful to have a search page where you could restrict the trees to one member’s username and then search those trees ONLY for a particular person.

  16. Jan

    I am also among those who would like to be able to look up specific public trees, either by the tree name or pull up the owner’s user name and have a link to their public three on their profile. Public trees are already available though “hints.” I’m not asking that the search be able to drill down to a search that would allow me to search for specific people in a specific tree, but once I get to a tree I can do that myself with a feature that’s already available (to search that individual’s tree). How is this so hard?

  17. Jerri

    I have found that sometimes “wrong” information has actually been correct. Back in the early days, there were so many marriages and remarriages, and people with the same name in families that I keep a very open mind when information is different than mine.

  18. Priscilla Ware

    I believe that every tree on Ancestry has a unique URL which is displayed in the address bar when you view that tree. This makes it possible to return to a specific tree quickly but you have to make a record of these URL’s/

  19. Barbara R. Jackson

    Please leave or add it back to Home Page the Search . I can’t find the home Page.

  20. I DO NOT like the new system. I had my tree exactly the way I wanted it. Now, instead of a Profile page where I could print out the “facts”,which also included his parents, wife & children. Now, in order to have all that info in place in order to copy it,, you have to copy & paste to add that info to the new Facts page that replaced the Profile page. I guess being able to see the births of the children saves having to go over to that person to determine where t
    hey lived when that child was born, & I’m thankful that you can hide that info if you so desire. In reference to the above conversation, used to have a way to search by user name, which brought up their tree(s), but they did away with that a few years back, when they made some improvements. I, too, have a difficult time finding some of their trees as they aren’t always listed on the user’s Profile page now.

  21. Denise Furlong

    Whenever I come across a Family Tree that seems to have correct or reliable information I email it to myself with stars. All I need to do in mail when I been working elsewhere and go back to that family is SEARCH by name. I’m able to work on my tablet, print from my laptop and use my phone to check information. I recently was able to print up information for my aunts on our Family Tree because they had been separated for 50+ years. As I worked on printing the information I would look at my records & sorces of my emailed Family Tree to look for new clues, which paid off because I discovered my 2x great grandmother brother lived with her after the death of her husband. My next step was DNA Results and low and behold I found a match and 2 cousins.
    I had the UPDATE LOOK and switch back to the OLD. I need to be able to PRINT UP Profile Page giving parents, siblings, spouse and children all on the same page because it would cost to much for me in ink and paper plus time to print individually.

  22. MJ Spivey

    Yes, searching is a task. Sometimes I search something, then go back later and search the same parameters and don’t get the same results.
    I would prefer Ancestry spend it’s time correcting the thousands of errors I have personally run across – not the least of which are my errors.
    The MERGE option should be deleted. If you do not have time to check sources and enter correct info you shouldn’t have a public tree.

  23. Anne C Morgan

    Was my mother’s info found? It’s been so long since I joined, I lost faith in this site. Her birth name, dob, place born, etc…place she passed, even her mortuary. What is missing? If her records were sent to me, please email again! Have I been charged for this? Please respond!
    Thank you for your time,
    Anne C Morgan

  24. Pat O

    Let me start by saying I have been researching my family for 40+ years, have been an Ancestry subscriber for 10+ years & have 15,000+ individuals in my tree. I have learned much in these years but still do not consider myself any sort of an expert. I started as most by gathering info from family members, then built on that by gaining sources and building generation after generation. I looked at other trees for clues and exchanged info with others. Along the way I learned there will always be those who want the results & rewards of a “family tree” w/o the effort & experience of doing the research. Today I cringe when I see some of my early work (which I have long since made corrections to) popping up in tree after tree. This is a perfect example of how & why there is so much incorrect info in so many trees. I am still building my tree at Ancestry and still making corrections/adjustments as I find new resources. My tree is private & will remain private until I feel that my data is as accurate as possible. My point is don’t judge the accuracy of info by the number of trees containing the same info & don’t ignore that one tree that contains conflicting or different info.

  25. Wayne Hewitt

    Im quite sure there is NA in my ancestry but to date non has appeared ill still be looking for it

  26. I probably have wrong info in my trees but I am new and and just now gathering information so I will varia fie it at a later time but it might be right because I am related to multiple trees and dates where fuged in past on purpose.

  27. ann

    hi I put in my dna in about 2 months ago , i havent receive anything ,maybe i delete by accident.

  28. Cathy

    If you know the person whose tree you are looking for, ask them to send you a link to their tree by email. If they copy the URL address from their tree page, it will take you directly to their tree.
    I noticed that each tree has a unique number. Perhaps Ancestry would consider making tree searches by number?

  29. Faye

    I do not like the new formats. I can not get what I want from looking at one person. I have been a member for years and have never received the first hint on the side of my family that I am researching.

  30. adam

    Great site. Two things what does the explore plus do for me and secondly, why are there so few entries of birth, death and marriages from Russia. My ancestors were Germans that lived in Russia for 100 years and there is very few data.

  31. I hate the new “home” page. And what happened to the profile page that would show the individual selected, and their parents, spouse and children – all on the SAME page??? This new site stinks! Makes updating information very difficult!

  32. Emily

    I agree with Spivey and many others here. I have found info which doesn’t appear when I search again…even census. I have found that Ancestry’s source and citation info varies over time as I have previously recorded it prior to finding that same info now. I HATE the new format as it is more cutesy-pie than it needs to be. We are genealogists after facts, not cute graphics! AND…if Ancestry would spend more time correcting errors in indexing and stop letting people index who cannot read the old writing (many names are legible once you see the document, if you can get past the index), that would be better use of their time and ours. IF Ancestry would remove outdated/multiple trees that would help. I know a man who claims to be an expert on his surname, but who has openly admitted he never checks the info he’s been given, but he has over 28 trees on the same family with slight variations. Obviously, he doesn’t know how to update a file. AND, he has wrong info which has been proven incorrect. Why should we have to weigh through messes like that? BUT, to you HONESTLY, think that Ancestry will listen and act on our suggestions. OH, I do WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT FREEZES OVER!!!

  33. Donna

    When I get Hints for people, the LAST place I check are the Trees. Often, I will get documented information that will verify the Tree information BEFORE I get all the tree info. That way, if someone’s tree is a little dodgy, I might add that as Alternate info, rather than changing what my primary research has already told me.

  34. Joseph

    It sounds to me, and my experiences indicate, the “New” format is not a hit. I don’t like anyone, or any software making changes to my trees. I do warn others that many of the off direct lineage records are not nescessarilly accurate, wheras direct lineage persons on both parents side are accurate back to 1800, perhaps much further on my mothers side, but no guarantees.

  35. Petra

    I started researching in 1988 with paper, pencil and Books. I don’t trust anything on Ancestry that comes from Family-Birth, Family-Death, or anything that doesn’t appear to be a real source rather than from people who researched their tree without at least an effort to prove the information. I do look at a few of the Family Trees when I am looking for specific information because of a blocked line, but when I find one I am willing to add to my tree, I don’t let it identify itself as coming from someone else’s tree. I leave the source as blank so I remember that the info still needs to be proved from an legitimate source. I keep my tree as private, but still get messages from people asking about my information. How is this a private tree? I consider my tree as a work in progress subject to change in a second. I do try to answer all questions, but if I have any doubts about the info, I do more research before trying to answering the question. And if I’m still not satisfied, I make sure that they know why I doubt the info. I REALLY DISLIKE THE ‘NEW’ ANCESTRY for too many reasons to list here!

  36. I tried out the new version a couple weeks ago and DO NOT like the new profile pages! I liked seeing all the info on one page. The last time things were updated it became harder to add info from other trees without getting multiples of everything and everyone. You pretty much have to make a note of the correct dates etc. or you will forget which one is correct when you’re faced with 4 or 5 different dates, spouses etc. I can tell a lot of people are confused when I look at their trees and see they have each child listed 3 or 4 times.
    I also think there should be a way to correct the info on the DNA circle profiles. Just because one person has my 2nd great grandmother (incorrectly) listed in her tree it makes the correct info that the other 8 have count for nothing! I would also like to see the cut off for DNA “hints” and “shared surnames” be 12 generations rather than 10.
    We are not professional researchers, please quit making everything harder. I am 71 years old and have only had a P.C. for about 5 years, there are still a lot of things I don’t know how to do with it. Please make things as simple as possible for people like me.

  37. Jan

    I too very much DISLIKE the new Ancestry format, and went back to the original just to be able to work my Tree! I don’t like all the ‘extra’ stuff they insert into the profiles, and it makes it very difficult to add info as others have commented. I have been an Ancestry subscriber for many years, and have put up with their multiple changes, but will stay ‘opted out’ of this new format for as long as possible until it is either forced upon me, or Ancestry comes to their senses and opts out of it themselves.
    Cancel this new layout PLEASE, Ancestry, or you’re going to lose a lot of long-time customers!
    I agree with what someone else commented too, that instead of messing with new layouts that not everyone likes, Ancestry should get down to their basic purpose, and fix all the errors in the transcriptions, and wrong records, and even the fact you can’t now edit someone’s NAME in the indexes of Censuses, etc. Most of the time the transcription errors are made by pure lack of common sense, and even the lack of being able to type, or even read English!
    We pay a lot of money for our subscriptions, Ancestry, PLEASE READ OUR COMMENTS and act accordingly! Thank you!
    PS Please moderate this comments board, and get rid of ‘Jane’ and her Herpes Ad.(today at 2:19 am).!!!

  38. Lesley

    I had Ancestry DNA done last year and have NO idea how to utilize. It’s just a map showing me a basic idea where my ancestors are from, which I pretty much already knew…..

  39. Nancy

    I believe that “Jane” who posted an entry on August 12, 2015 at 12:39 AM is confused about her audience? If so, I would suggest her comments be removed.

  40. Nancy

    I am FREQUENTLY asked to participate in Ancestry surveys, where I have repeatedly provided negative feedback in only two areas: “new” search format and the abysmal quality of some of the indexing (possibly done by people not familiar with our language, professions and geography?). It appears that they have since put their development efforts and money into “window dressing” to woo a new demographic, while ignoring the traditional–and experienced–research crowd. Given that trend, I HAVE had success using a combination of Familysearch and Ancestry. If I am having trouble finding someone on Ancestry, I go to Familysearch to use their superior-quality indices and search engine. Now, armed with confirmation of where and when, I can go back to Ancestry to play with their filters until the record I am looking for appears in the search results. Often the name, age and relationship information as it appears in Ancestry is laughable! I have to think that, if they want to be taken seriously as the “preferred genealogical research and family history tool”, they should focus MORE ON THE QUALITY OF THE DATA than the (perceived) aesthetic of the user interface. I am not planning to update to the new interface. If they eventually pull the plug on what is the “old” version, I will probably have to take my subscription elsewhere.

  41. Terry McMillan

    I have noticed that 95% of my DNA relative links are on my mothers side of the family. It appears as though the “Y” chromozome DNA matches are a large part of the analysis. Am I correct in assuming this?

  42. Ancestry IT has the capability for those members (paying or non-paying, er, guests) to easiy access anyone’s tree that has visited your specific tree and say, downloaded a photo . Ancestry gives you their name and takes you to their profile… so, it follows that you could just as easliy be taken to where that member place the download from your tree.
    I understand that there would be a nightmare for them to try to list and make available all trees, but there are links already made from downloads and don’t forget the ‘leaves’…the 1st listing is this person is listed in X number of trees on Ancestry…linking those should be relatively easy if they can already tell you how many trees have the same person in them. Anyone visiting the tree of someone else should be easily visited to either profile and/or tree.

    Believe me it isn’t rocket science to fold links into a single place once you’ve found and counted them.

    Just my technical thoughts…


  43. Jerold wiegand

    Can’t find my Wiegand family on your search engine. Why would I want to pay if you don’t list my whole family and their offspring?

  44. Brenda Ballew

    I would like to voice my opinion it the “new and improved” Ancestry. It is not improved–I find it more difficult both to use and to read, especially the profile page. I wish we had an option to upgrade or not. I am seriously thinking about cancelling my membership.

  45. Luis

    When I check matching locations in my Dna section while searching the matching towns in the maps tab, I keep getting a map marker in a town where any of my relatives or ancestors never lived or stayed…is ancestry confused because of some random data in the system?.

  46. MaryD

    How can I trust someone else’s family tree in NEW format? I can’t trust MY OWN tree anymore. If anyone sees my big tree in NEW format listings, it is NOT the same tree that is in the Classic/OLD Ancestry listings. All the facts and relationships on my tree in “Old” Ancestry were as accurate as I could make them. I searched many documents inside and outside the Ancestry website. Events were in correct order. I wrote many narrative sentences explaining the people and events. I paid attention to the grammar and language I used. I never posted “Ancestry Family Trees” as a source. (I don’t mind being called a “Source Snob.” Finding all those sources has taken many years of searching.) I thought I had a high-quality tree. Now, on my “New” tree, events are out of order. Places not found in any geography book are named as locations where my family lived. On the LifeStory page, facts have been superseded by assumptions. People who had just one life-long partner now have multiple spouses. (And they usually married them on the same day.)The Ancestry narratives are simplistic and often contradict what I have recorded on my tree. New Ancestry is being marketed while still in the development stage. Subscribers are paying for a defective product. It should be recalled.

  47. Judy

    It was very disappointing to find that some documents, etc. that I had added to certain members of my large tree are now gone. How will I ever be able to track down everything that is missing and if I restore it will it go away again? One of my comments on Ancestry surveys is always to ask for a way to know at a glance that a one-hint leaf will take me to family trees, not to a useful document. Maybe they could use a brown or orange leaf for trees-only hints.
    One thing I have started doing is to put a note about my uncertainty about a Fact being the correct “Emily Nelson” in the description area for a Fact Detail. That way I can hold my place with a record that I haven’t 100% confirmed without passing it on as Gospel to other researchers.
    I was very upset to find that I could not submit corrections for obvious errors. Last night I found a record where the transcriber had dropped down a line making it appear that the person was from Texas, not Iowa. I have spent many hundreds of hours correcting faulty transcriptions on everything from census to city directory records. (I qualified as an Ancestry World Archives Project arbitrator with a 98% accuracy rate so my corrections are likely to be accurate.)
    I have been an Ancestry user/subscriber since the days of FTM CDs and I love Ancestry but I am concerned about changes made for TV commercials, not for dedicated researchers.

  48. june clarkson

    I don’t have the time to be on here and don’t have enough information to get started on either side of the family. I guess you’ve got to know everything to find out anything. Think I am going to cancel and I just paid for a month about a week ago.

  49. Elizabeth House

    I loved the Old Ancestry much better than all the new, not needed, things that have been added. I find there is a lot of duplication in names. Also when I know for a fact that something is wrong on your site I would like the option to comment and make a correction.

  50. Shirley Duke

    I don’t care for the new version of Ancestry. I changed back to the older version. I know soon we will be stuck with the new version, but until then I will use what works for me.

  51. I am so confused now. I was using my adopted parents names and now I know that my adopted mother is really my great aunt. I feel I need 2 different trees. One tree with my adopted parents who I am so inclined to know and honor with their ancestors & their stories. In addition, I need an entire second tree, that is related to my biological mother and father. Somehow there will be a glich since my adopted mother is my great aunt and not my real mother. I would be so glad to have an answer to my dilemma. Thank you.

  52. Glenn Nance

    I paid 100$ for the DNA program about 6 months ago.

Comments are closed.