If time is short then decide on one or two things you want to find out about a particular ancestor. It might be you are missing a census, family legend has it that an ancestor fought in the Boer War or the 1911 census stated that your great grandparents had 8 children and you can only account for 6. Focusing on one genealogy task at a time will save a lot of frustration. So here are my 5 top tips for searching online genealogy records.
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1. Use Ancestry’s Card Catalogue, FindMyPast’s A – Z of Records Set’s (It’s hidden at the end of the drop down menu under the Search tab) or FamilySearch’s Location then Record Title search to find the type of record that might hold the answer you are seeking. Concentrating on one research task at a time helps you really focus on just what type of record might hold the information you are looking for.
2. Remember when entering information into a search box that less is more. If you have your online tree on Ancestry, FindMyPast or FamilySearch you will find that once you have entered a name the programme goes to your tree grabs all the information found for that person and wants to fill in all the boxes. Stop it from doing this by not clicking on your ancestors name when it is offered up by the search engine _ I have even been heard telling it “Don’t” rather sternly ! Putting in too much detail can mean that the search engine dismisses a record because it doesn’t fit all the criteria you have entered. If too many results come up then you can go back to the search form and put in one or two more details to narrow the search down and then try again.
3. Wildcards are great genealogy help when searching. You can use them on Ancestry, FindMyPast and FamilySearch If you are unsure of a spelling whether it is a name or a place then replace one or two of the letters with a wildcard. Wildcards are an asterisk *, you’ll find the key at the top of your computer key board. So if there is a possibility that an ancestor might be Sophie Smith or Sophia Smith then you would type in Sophi* and that would send the search engine off to bring back all references to all the Sophie Smith and Sophia Smith entries it finds. Replacing vowels (a e i o u) in a name and place name with a wildcard has often brought up the record I am looking for. The same with a y in a place name.
4. If you get really stuck when looking for an ancestor try searching just using their first name and perhaps their age (give or take 2 years) and a place of birth. Leave the surname blank, you will be surprised how effective this is especially when looking in a village or small town for a person on the census. It is how I found my Elliott family in the 1851 census hidden under the surname Hallett – a mistake on the enumerators part when copying the information he had gathered onto the form he then sent up to head office.
5. Don’t rely on the indexers reading a name, place or date correctly. Don’t be afraid to browse records, that is search through them page by page. In pre-internet days this is how genealogy was undertaken and a very slow process it was at time, but now it can be very easy to forget that those who index all the online records are only human and they will make mistakes however careful they try to be. No one knows your family as well as you do so if you are missing data from a census or parish register etc and the ancestors who seem to have disappeared lived in a reasonably small area then consider searching for them page by page. It doesn’t take as long as you think and a spin off is that you will get a real feel for the surroundings and people that your family knew so well.
6. Here is a bonus tip !! – Keep a note of which records you have searched for which ancestor, otherwise you will find yourself going back over old ground several times. Use the Research Project Planner and Family History Check List which are free printables in the MadAboutGenealogy Resource Library. Join my Mailing List and get free access to lots of genealogy printables, charts, worksheets etc. Click Here to join.
5 top tips For Searching Online Genealogy Records – Summary
1. Narrow down your search to the actual records that hold what you are looking for – no point in searching army records if you are looking for a census
2. When entering data onto the search form remember less is more and if your first search doesn’t bring up any results either add or subtract details that you have entered.
3. Wildcards – use them to replace names and places that could have been spelled differently.
4. Leave out a surname, but add in one or two other details such a birth date and place.
5. Consider browsing the record so that you are 100% certain that the indexers haven’t made a mistake.
6. Keep a research plan sheet for each ancestor so you don’t keep searching the same records over and over again.
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