Posted by Amy Johnson Crow on January 28, 2016 in Research

american-963193_640Unless you were the winner of the recent $1.5 billion lottery, you probably don’t have unlimited money to spend on your genealogy. Although Ancestry provides access to billions of records, there are times when you have to obtain a copy directly from a record office. Here are some tips for making the most of your offline genealogy dollars.

Have a Goal in Mind

There are always questions in genealogy. (Find one ancestor and immediately you wonder, “Who are his parents?”) When you have a research goal in mind, it helps you focus on what you really want to accomplish. Otherwise, you end up chasing BSOs – Bright Shiny Objects. (Been there, done that!) Having a clear goal allows you to ask yourself, “Does getting this fit in with what I want to accomplish?” If it doesn’t, then you have to decide is the cost worth it, knowing that those dollars won’t be available to spend on something that will help your goal.

Learn About the Record First

Not all records give the information you’re hoping for. For example, in some areas, early marriage records and death records don’t list the parents’ names. (I’m looking at you, Ohio.) If you have to order a record, learn what records from that time period in that state or county typically contain. Use sources like the FamilySearch Family History Research Wiki or ask on your favorite Facebook group what you can expect to find.

Double-Check That It Isn’t Online

Are you sure that record isn’t online? Check out the Card Catalog to see.  If it’s a book that you’re thinking of buying, look on places like Google Books, Internet Archive, and Digital Public Library of America to see if it’s available online.

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. eve

    When will we get an update about the progress of fixes that will be done to make NEW ancestry work satisfactorily?

  2. J Allen

    Hogwash, the names Allen and Allan are of Arabic origin. People migrating to the British Isles from the Arab world centuries ago had their name shortened from Al this and Al that. Much like the jews coming through Ellis Island and the “Americanizion” of Native names.

  3. kirstinm

    Seriously, I just left feedback or a suggestion on – – about the fact that I spend my money to access Ancestry and get about a 50% return if I’m lucky. Then I spend my time (more valuable than $ as I get older) fixing errors created by Ancestry.

    This morning and this past week profile photos are disappearing from my person pages and my family trees. Many times a person’s gallery never loads, all the work I put in to placing profile photos is now gone? and needs to be re-done? Instead of posting about offline research dollars, get your site in order so the money I spend for ONLINE research is money well spent.

  4. MDubuc

    I agree with a couple of the other posts: Ancestry Management, deliver on fixing problems and deliver on an option to remove inane LifeStory from one’s tree. The posting is right about one thing: ” … you probably don’t have unlimited money to spend on your genealogy.” I don’t have unlimited money to spend on genealogy, and my investment in money (and time) with Ancestry is really turning out to be a bad deal.

  5. gensleuth

    I still feel I am getting plenty from world and feel that it is money well spent except for’s inability to provide automatic fixes with their synch functions between on-line trees and the Family Tree Maker Trees. It takes hours to try to rectify only to find out there is still no resolution. As far as I can see they should be able to rectify the non-sync situation immediately with an optional customer service “Correct Sych” button that will sync the trees, putting all files that need resolution into an immediate alert that goes out to the owner of the trees so they can see what tree file, fact, media, etc. needs correction. There are many of us who are not tech savvy or have other issues where we need assistance at the time the tree shows a synch problem without having to jump through hoops or having great customer service assistance up to a point and then being left on our own to complete the process which seldom resolves issues. How about offering quick tech support for sync issues at an extra cost with a quick link to that support put right into FTM or’s home pages. I do not like the look of new ancestry BUT I do like the comments option that brings rather quick results and feel the “story” takes up way too much time and space when maybe reporting issues with facts or a side bar showing available fact options would improve the ease of adding less common facts where they belong so that others getting hints from trees would see that something is going to be “hitched” along with the fact you are merging.

  6. Greg Favigton

    Ancestry, you’re posting research suggestions and other stuff and meanwhile your customers have been left without a) a desktop genealogy software and b) a usable online interface.

    I bet looking back from 2020, 2015/2016 will be a turning point for your company (and not for the better I am afraid)

  7. Linda

    I’m having problems with records duplicating, which means I have to go back thru my names list and merge them one by one. Also the program is not working correctly. I’ve called the help desk, but their fixes don’t work. I’m disappointed.

  8. Linda Nussbacher

    I have read the above comments and agree that your management team are not going in the right direcion for the customers needs . So much time and cost are borne by your customers with not much to show for it. And change is good, but not always when it creates a sunami of issues with no one to really remedy so many things that are affected. I’m not happy with the new Ancestry site, much prefer the older version. Who are the product designers and it is apparent they do not do the ‘labor’ of the customers who just want good results for their family tree to be passed on to the future generations. We the customer, pay a price whenever your managers, designers don’t get it right or keep changing things.

  9. Joan Gaylord batie

    I have question about two siblings with the same parents, their DNA is the same but why does one have Polynesian & the other has African?
    How does this happen with the same DNA?

  10. The most satisfying “offline research” I did was trying to locate my 3x Great Grandfather’s grave.
    I got as far as identifying the cemetery online. I found an address for the cemetery (Nunhead – a large London cemetery) and wrote to them. They sent me a plan of the cemetery and an approximate location of the grave.
    I travelled down to London whilst on a business trip and tried to locate the grave. Unfortunately it was located somewhere in the middle of an area covered to a height of around 10 feet with spiky brambles! Several months later I was at an exhibition with my son in London and went back to the cemetery armed with garden tools. I got permission to hack down the brambles and spent several hours homing in on where I believed the grave to be. I finally found a gravestone which I could only identify as the resting place of my 3x gt grandfather as the cemetery had listed the other 4 people buried on top of him (they buried them 5 deep at that time!). All the effort that this involved meant that this was very satisfying experience in the end.

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