Posted by Bryony Partridge on May 10, 2016 in United Kingdom

What tip would you share with a researcher who’s just started their family history journey?

We posed this question to our UK Twitter community recently and were overwhelmed with helpful responses – everything from who and how to research, to buying your self nice stationery for all those notes you’ll be taking.

Here are 7 of your top pieces of #AncestryAdvice that we think are particularly helpful for ensuring you get the best out of your research.

From @Melissa_H_Chi

From @Markymoomoo39

From @Andie_Pandiepie


From @auntiemabelorg

From @BellLovesSims3

From @Chromeboy1884


From @jasoneden


What piece of #AncestryAdvice would you pass on to a fellow family history researcher? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us on @AncestyUK #AncestryAdvice

Bryony Partridge

Bryony is the International PR Manager for Ancestry where she implements strategic communications and social media programs that bring increased media awareness for the company.


  1. Rob Wing

    If you were adopted do the dna test and follow up on all leads. I was matched with a second cousin and together we found my birth parents and I was united with a whole new family.

  2. Mike

    Source everything as you go along, and look at the actual record when possible. As my Mom always told me, a family tree is totally worthless without sources to back up what you have discovered.

  3. Marsha Hosfeld

    Interview your relatives – record the interviews if you know how. Even your own generation, since siblings and cousins may have heard stories that you didn’t (or don’t recall). And be sure to ‘source’ items or stories you get from people so you don’t forget where they came from.

  4. Cheryl D

    Create a consistent method for file naming, especially when doing online research. I found that naming a file/document by yyyy-mmm-dd_last name_first name_city_country was very helpful, since most files you will find are date related (ex: census, marriage cert, etc.) and it helps to cut down on duplicates. I also divided my files into 4 file-folders; one for each grandparent’s last name/maiden name and worked backwards from there.

  5. Janice

    Don’t assume your ancestor always gave the correct age. We tend to think that only women did this but sometimes men did it too so they might be eligible to enlist in the military (or might be disqualified). One great-grandfather said he was born in about 1854 when he was born in 1847. This was in 1898 and he must have thought he would be considered to be too old to serve in the Spanish-American War.

  6. Joyce

    Use the card catalog as well as and google books to hunt for people. Too many things on ancestry are only indexes.

    Remember there is more than one person with the same name from the same area usually. Find reliable histories and resources in the card catalog. Always search the card catalog for the area you are looking in (especially with early settlers) and also search the surname there. You will be amazed at the resources in the card catalog that do not come up in regular searches.

    GET CERTS–so many people will not order certs on their folks due to cost but it is the only way to be sure you are on the right path. If you cannot find a cert on YOUR ancestor then order them on siblings…eventually you will run into someone in the family who listed parents names and often much more.

    DON’T copy trees—I see too many trees out there that are wrong…and it only takes one wrong turn to go completely down the wrong line.

    After you add a document go back and check that person’s fact page–something that is an error may not be apparent when you add a document-but becomes readily apparent after you look at the persons FACTS page and realize kids are born before their parents, someone died at 150 years old, a mother had children at age 70.

    The above statement isthe biggest problem I see–people attach a document and don’t bother to go back and check that person’s fact page.

    NEVER rely on an ancestry transcript–if available LOOK at the actual source as many many documents are transcribed incorrectly ESPECIALLY the New England marriages before 1700.

    I don’t believe there is ONE correct transcription in that database as the people who transcribed them did not read the introduction regarding the KEY to how that database should be interpretted.

    IF you are using that database, go find it in the card catalog and read the instructions that are on about pg 11. Ancestry has transcribed every b. as a marriage date and it is not–it is the date of the birth of their first child. Even the TYPE of parenthesis used means something different.

    Read the instructions as the way this database is written is extremely convoluted —and if you are not aware of what everything means you are bound to create errors in your tree. Not ONE of the transcriptions for this database, which is over 100,000 records when you consider the 3 supplements.

    Sometimes you can easily see what is transcribed incorrectly, but not all the time. Keep track of where Torrey wrote the instructions to interpret it as you are going to need it fairly often for those early marriages.

    To help OTHER researchers find the right path, add the documents you find as “photo” so other researchers can also find the “treasure document” you have stumbled across.

    When searching the Card Catalog don’t use the full name of the resource. The Card Catalog search will tell you it does not exist. Use short terms–for example the only way to get New England marriages before 1700 to come up is to ONLY type in “New England Marriages” (without the quotes). and LOOK for your folks through the card catalog that way also. Just because you cannot find their names on a regular search does not mean they are not listed.

    Look at all categories–especially photos, stories and “references dictionaries and almanacs” Many researchers have submitted things previously in stories and photos that will help you–

    ALWAYS edit your searches to key in on the specific info and time peiord you are looking for.

    Example–if you are looking for a woman before she was married, OR when she was married to a specific spouse, go to edit and take out all spouses names OR the “other spouses” you don’t want to search for. If the search lists many places you know they lived, BUT you are looking for them in another area, take out ALL the references to the places where you have already found them. ONLY put in the place you want the computer to look.

    Editing your searches keeps a LOT of junk results from showing up in your search results.

    NOT editing searches is the biggest mistake I see people make…and then they get frustrated when they have to sort through pages of info that is not helping.

    I could go on and on but THOSE are the key things that I see people NOT doing.

  7. CH

    Married women should retain their maiden name in the record…but if helps to search by married names due to the way the record may have been written ortranscribed.

    Sheesh! Even men have been indexed using the woman’s surname. Example: Some of the Massachusetts Vital Records. the transcribers didn’t understand the records!

  8. toni

    ancestry’s business is to collect names. Putting them in context is your job. Be very, very careful and always read the original document. If it’s an index only, look at it but don’t rely on it. It’s probably wrong. The index only cards are made up from family trees. And I do mean made up!

  9. Joyce

    NEVER use “family data collection” as a SOURCE. Use these as hints only. They are not a source, they are only an amalgamation of what others have put on their trees—I see TOO many trees that are incorrect–the majority of trees I see (esp on early New England families) are NOT correct.

    Likewise for millenium files. These are NOT sources–again they are only an amalgamtion of what others have put on their trees–

    Use them ONLY as guides of things/people you may want to consider while searching.

    Too many trees out there says they have 20+ sources–and when I look at the tree MOST the info is these files.

    These files do NOT meet the Genealogical Proof Standard in any way shape or form and should NEVER be used as a source.

    If you are SURE it is correct, and you want to add it–it is YOUR tree BUT experienced researchers ignore these except to use as potential things to look into.

    I agree NEVER use married names for women–NEVER string along ALL their married names–if you don’t have a maiden name leave rthe surname blank–puttingin anything other than the name you are looking for messes with your searches.

    Never call folks “Mr” or “Mrs” so and so–you are asking the computer system to search for someone wiht that name and it will never find it.

    NEVER enter “unknown” for a name as then the computer will look for a person with the name “unknown”

    Never enter things like “female child” just leave the child’s name blank except for surname if you know it–you can tell if it is a male or female becausew they show up as pink or blue

    Entering all this kind of stuff gets in your way.

    TRY to think like a computer–it can only search with GOOD parameters–if you give it “garbage” that is exactly what you will get in return.

    Also with names such as Di Maggio (names like that are common with ancestors) edit your search to DiMaggio. Otherwise you get all kinds of crazy stuff that does not even resembler the last name you are look for.

    Same thing with the Mc’s amd Mac’s if those are separated in the correct name, edit your search to NOT have a space inbetween.

    Remember the old computer saying “garbage in garbage out”- The computers ONLY search with the info you give them so enter the BEST info you have…if you enter things as above, you are never going to find your folks that way.

  10. Jeanette

    In search results search by records and by category for a specific record. You’ll be surprised by what you might find.
    Only use other member trees as a clue. Then look for records to back up their data.
    Use other sources as well as Ancestry. Family Search, Google Books, are all useful.
    Don’t be afraid of online sources of information but be careful of which sites you use. Sites like The History of Parliament on line for English gentry. The National Library of Wales, Irish Genealogy are all good sites with accurate information.
    Document all of your data.
    Take good notes so that you can remember where you got your information.
    For each search note, what do I know, how do I know it and what do I want to learn. Then search for that.

  11. If you are new to this, be aware that it quickly becomes addictive and you will be loath to leave you computer BUT when you are tired, Quit!! Get up from the computer and get your head back into the current world. The info you are looking for will be there there next time you go back to searching.

  12. Pamela Mortensen

    Joyce, you are SO right about the Family Data Collection. There are errors about my family there that CANNOT BE CHANGED. I don’t understand that, but it specifically says you cannot correct it because that is what certain folks have submitted in their trees. Since we have established that there are many, many errors in those trees, why is this source considered so sacrosanct that we cannot submit corrections? Especially when they are OUR families and we do know the correct data?

  13. Frank

    Don’t forget , before you do anything, clear your cache and cookies and possibly change your browser because probably not much will work properly otherwise.

  14. Joyce

    Pamela maybe submit feed back or write customer support —

    They also need to give us more options for correcting the myriad mistakes in New England marriages before 1700–MOST those transcriptions are incorrect (see Torry’s key to using this source on about pg 11 in card catalog) yet they have NO plans of fixing those transcripts claiming it does not affect many people (BALONEY) so they at least need to give us ways to send in corrections for more than just the name. I recently found one that had a marriage date transcribed as a death date-and sure enough I found a BUNCH of trees that added that without seeing what the system did–Must have been a WILD wedding night LOL . There are too many errors in transcriptions in many databases and not enough options to correct the data. Every single field shoudl have a way to corrrect it!

    while I enjoy seeing that info to give me clues of what I might look at it is NOT a source…yet when you look at other trees that come up as hints the one at the top of the list are ones who have added TONS of these type “records” It seems there is one extreme or the other–either trees with all that garbage attached or trees that are only copied from family trees. Too many folks don’t realize about 50% of trees are wrong and should never be copied–UNLESS you have done your research first and you know they are correct.

    When you copy a tree “alerts” about a birth or death being VERY unlikely do not come up–and people don’t bothere to check after adding that their page makes sense.

  15. Joyce

    woopsI inserted a though and it separated my comments…THIS comment was about the family data collection: while I enjoy seeing that info to give me clues of what I might look at it is NOT a source…yet when you look at other trees that come up as hints the one at the top of the list are ones who have added TONS of these type “records” It seems there is one extreme or the other–either trees with all that garbage attached or trees that are only copied from family trees. Too many folks don’t realize about 50% of trees are wrong and should never be copied–UNLESS you have done your research first and you know they are correct.

  16. Joyce

    Cheryl D I agree organization is a MUST-but I have organized my guys differently.

    I have set up folders by last names of the MAIN last name for families in ny Pedigree, and when I file I file by last name (space) first name (space) date (space) and type.

    Then I can search my computer by name and the other info in the title of the record tells me exactly which one it is (many families use the same name in several generations) and I can also find the birth, death etc record without have to search through all of them.

    There are many ways to organize depending on your computer and what works best for you BUT organization is a MUST.

    Also ancestry recommends Mozzilla or Chrome. I find Mozilla faster but I have a cousin that Chrome works faster.

    In Mozzilla I likethe fact that when I add a doc as a photo, and then go to a person’s page to add, it will be at the top of the list–no huntingall over for it IF you have fileditin your documents folder which JMHO is where you should keep your files on the surnames in yhour family

  17. Joyce

    Just call me the “typo queen” LOL I am sure you can figure out what I mean “between the lines” Have a good day everyone!

  18. Paula

    Joyce, your tips are wonderful. I have been doing genealogy for decades, since the pencil and paper days, and things like “7 Ancestry Hints” are largely useless to me. Your hints, on the other hand, are terrific and so helpful to those of us who are still not completely integrated into internet and Ancestry research. And you offer your hints with some wit as well–“Must have been a WILD wedding night” indeed! 😀

    My only comment: I believe that 90 percent of Ancestry trees are wrong, if not 100%. I know that my own tree must have a few errors, simply because some of my sources are old collections, family genealogies from 1912 and such, that have since been updated. I take down the information, but I’m open to correction and new information that my ancestors didn’t know when they wrote the family histories. What a great hobby!

  19. Beverly Barry

    I find the tips very helpful. One thing that I would like in Ancestry is to be able to import a GEDCOM file and update an EXISTING Ancestry tree. I do the bulk of my entry in the My Heritage software, copied my tree to Ancestry and was unable to update that tree with an updated GEDCOM file. I had to create a new tree in Ancestry and all my documents are attached and saved to my old Ancestry tree.

  20. MinnesotaFinn

    Leave a short thank you note in comments when you copy from someone’s tree. I have spent a lot of time scanning and uploading photos and documents from my family archive and not one person who has copied to their tree has ever said thank you.

  21. Pat Hardigree

    Seek out the oldest of your family on both sides, then their close family relations and older cousins. Write down a list of questions to ask and write down the answers and record them too on your phone or device. Ask their permission.

  22. calyx

    All of the Ancestry tips above are absolutely right. I learned them the hard way when I started my project in 1997. I would add these tips: I sat down one day and wrote down everything that I remembered that relatives had said. This is more useful than you would think. Second, I went to a major university research library and found the paterfamilias of my mothers family. Third, I investigated local genealogy societies from each of the major cities that my parents came from. Next, don’t dismiss what you find simply because you don’t like it. Lastly, new records come available all the time. Keep checking. Just recently I found some excellent info just by entering a first and middle name and DOB. I hadn’t explored that line in several years. Of course, this leads to more questions 🙂 The elderly who lived through a time when you did not exist are invaluable in this endeavor. Always remember that the USA (and the world at large) were VERY different 100-300 years ago. A lot was discarded, a lot was suppressed. But, I’m still amazed at what I’ve been able to find despite the attempts at obfuscation. I never trust to copying any info. I prefer doing the primary research on my own.

  23. Lorna

    1 – start with what you know (grandma didnt have a local accent coukd lesd to finding she was brought up else where)
    2-raid the family archive (that old photo that says Haverfordwest 1941 has 2 names on it that could answer who grandads brothers daughter was)
    3 – Dont take every family story as fact but use it as a guide. Remember everyone isn’t sat in the same seat in a room so their opinions are going to vary on what was/is/has been.
    4- Dont just blindly copy other peoples work, check for sourse facts (where is the evidence that their information is right?)
    5 – its not just a list of names so check newspapers, electoral registers, rate books, hearth tax, workhouse records, coroner’s reports, estate records and church/chapel registers at local archives to add colour and character ro your relatives.
    6 – Remember to search for old family address’s, buisiness or premises names and misspelled names when hunting
    7 – Remember that back in the day noone had ID like today (generally not enough money to open a bank account, no NHS, passports were rare, with large families bdays were often mixed up or forgotten so allow upto 5 years difference to the actual birth year
    8 – if you cant find your direct relative try searching for a sibling with either 2 names or a more unusual name to see if they are living together
    9 – if you cannot find something, try again in 6 months because there are always new records being added all the time
    10 – There was no correct way to spell a surname so think outside the box for alternate spellings, did your ancestor come from outside of the local area and have an accent? An irish person saying “Curran” could be misprinted as “Kern”for instance

    Happy hunting

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