Looking to research your family tree, but not sure where to start? Want to find out who owned your house in the 1800’s? Ancestry.com is an expansive resource for genealogy and historical information, with over 20 billion records in its database, and about 2 million added each day.
Ancestry.com offers a special edition for library users, which can be instrumental in your genealogical research. Here are some quick tricks and tips to help get you started!
Library Only Access
Unlike many of the other databases offered by the Sewickley Public Library, Ancestry.com Library Edition must be used inside the library. However, this does not mean that the information you find can only be accessed in the library. When you find a document using Ancestry Library, the information and document can be saved with the “Send Document” feature. By inputting your email address, Ancestry Library will send an email to your account describing how to access the document from home.
Accessing From Home
To access documents sent to your email from the library, simply use the link emailed to you by Ancestry Library. You will be taken to the “My Discoveries” page, where all of the documents you have sent to your email will be located. These documents can either be viewed in browser or downloaded to your computer.
Create Your Own Family Tree
Ancestry Library’s Family Tree creation service is unavailable through the Library Edition, but that does not mean you cannot compose a family tree. There are several online sites that allow for the creation of free family trees, and can be used to manually track the names and information you find on Ancestry Library. Some great sites for this include Family Search, Family Echo, and FamilyTree.com. For a completely manual tree, chart creators like Draw.io allow users to create flowcharts that can easily be used as family trees.
While Ancestry Library is an invaluable tool, it is best utilized when combined with other resources. The United States Government has a portion of their website dedicated entirely to genealogy tools and archives, which can be found here. Other genealogy sites, local records, and newspaper databases like Newspapers.com and Newspaper Source Plus can also help paint a more distinct picture of your ancestors’ lives.
Be Aware of Misspellings
Many genealogical resources like the U.S. Census are digitized incorrectly, or may even have incorrect information. A person with the last name Fitzgerald may be listed as such in the 1920 Census, but listed as “Fitzjerald” in the 1930 Census. Regardless of whether the mistake is in the handwriting, the digitization, or the original information, small details like these can throw off an entire search.
Change Up the Names
Sometimes with the Ancestry Library database, the information provided can alter which results are generated. For a fictional example, the character Harry James Potter could be listed in records as Harry J. Potter, H. J. Potter, H. Potter, or Harry Potter. Try searching with these different types of writing names, because it might just lead you to some extra information.
Another thing to remember is that many married women legally change their middle name to their maiden name once they are married, meaning that an additional search including a maiden name and married name may be necessary. To keep with the Harry Potter example, Hermione Jean Granger would hypothetically be listed in the Ancestry Library database as both Hermione J. Granger and Hermione G. Weasley, provided she changed her name this way.
Ancestry.com and Living Relatives
Though it provides a great deal of historical information, Ancestry.com protects the information of people who are still living. If you trace a distant branch of your family tree to current day, names that do not appear may be those of currently living relatives. There is also a chance a living relative with an Ancestry.com subscription has added the ancestor you are researching to their Ancestry.com Family Tree. For this reason, make sure to check the “Family Trees” category of the search results.
Understand the United States Census
Ancestry.com provides information that is made publicly available, but it is important to know the details of where this information comes from. The National Archives has a 72-year rule for census data, meaning that 72 years need to have passed in order for a census’s data to be released to the public. In 2012, the 1940 Census was made available, and in 2022 the data from the 1950 Census will be released.
It is important to note that almost all census data from the 1890 Census is unavailable, as most of the files were lost to a fire in the Commerce Department Building in 1921.
Census data can reveal a lot about your ancestors. Note information such as who is listed as Head of Household, how many people lived in the household, and how old each family member was at the time. The census can reveal that four generations of your family were at one point living under the same roof!
Information from Draft Cards
One of the most helpful databases on Ancestry.com is that of the draft cards and military information for the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Most draft cards will contain information already revealed by the census and other resources, but will offer a much more personal view of your ancestor, including their signature. Draft cards can also reveal who they considered next of kin, what occupation they had at the time of the war, and a basic physical description for relatives of which you cannot find a picture.
Double Check Information
Sometimes in your research, you may find that there is a person who has the same name as your relative who lived at the same time they did. A good way to make sure the information you are finding pertains to the person you are researching is to corroborate it with other information you have found. If you know your great-grandfather Joe Smith was a steel worker in Pittsburgh in 1910, you can probably infer that the Joe Smith who got baptized in Ireland that same year is not the same person.
Be Mindful of Too Much Information in Searches
The search function on Ancestry Library is very advanced, but the amount of information that can be provided for a single search can be overwhelming. While searching with all relevant data is recommended, it may also be wise to run a search with only partial information, even with just a person’s name and their birth year. Though there will be a lot less specific information, it is possible you may find something your ultra-specific search did not see.
Periodically Repeat Searches
Though the same search two weeks apart might not yield different results, with the incredible amount of data added to Ancestry’s database each year, it may be wise to repeat the same searches every few months. In addition to the public information that gets added, a person with an Ancestry.com subscription that is descended from the same ancestor may have uploaded a resource their family owns, such as a photograph.