Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Ancestry in any way – unless you count the obscene amounts of money deducted from my bank account every year.  I don’t even LIKE Ancestry’s search.  I’m just tired of all the unfounded whining.

magnifier-159360_640Okay – by now you’ve heard that Ancestry’s Old Search is dead.  Unless you just started using Ancestry in the past month, you can’t say you didn’t know it was coming.  The genea-community has been talking about it forEVER (for example, see my post from June of last year, in which Ancestry had made the announcement that Old Search would die at the end of the year.  Suck it up, folks – they gave you an extra 2-1/2 months with your beloved.

I have noticed several people complaining in multiple Facebook groups that new search doesn’t give accurate results like old search did.  Some people have even gone so far as to cancel their subscriptions because old search is gone.  News Flash … IT’S NOT OLD SEARCH SO IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE OLD SEARCH.  You folks simply have to learn to use new search in order for it to be effective.

You may have heard of Crista Cowan (also known as The Barefoot Genealogist, as Ancestry’s search guru).  She has worked for Ancestry for about 10 years.  You may have even heard her speak at various conferences about Ancestry’s collections and using the website.  What you may not know is that Crista also hosts an internet show every week.  Her YouTube channel can be found here.  There are several videos on how to use Ancestry’s “new” search.  You can also watch her presentation at RootsTech back in February FOR FREE here.

Russ Worthington also wrote about new search back in July 2013 here.  Randy Seaver also gave a good example here.

Despite all of these resources – quite literally – at their fingertips, there seems to be some difficulty in finding these training tools (which surprises me because, you know, researchers and all).

I get that there are those of you who simply can’t watch the videos because of bandwidth issues or time issues or whatever.  In that case, just PLAY with the settings.  You aren’t going to break it, I promise.  It really IS intuitive, you just have to be in the right mindset for it to be that way.  If you go in thinking “new search is terrible and I’m never going to find anything.”  Then guess what?  You probably won’t.  I recommend starting with a record you KNOW is out there and using different search parameters to find it again.  You’ll see that it starts to make sense (most of the time*).

So – in addition to the resources mentioned above, I thought I would provide a couple of tips and things to keep in mind that might make new search a little more intuitive:

1.  If you aren’t using Advanced Search, you’ve already given up.


Stop using the search box on Ancestry’s home page.  That’s like living in a city and only going to the tourist-y places.  That little search box is what Ancestry uses to entice people to buy memberships.  Of course you’re going to get 8 gajillion results.  Click on that “advanced search” button before you do anything else and the rest will be so much easier.

2.  If it isn’t on the document, you won’t get a match.

Bottom line is that if the census record says your ancestor was from “United States,” a search for an exact match of “Memphis, Shelby, Tennessee” isn’t going to be fruitful.  This is when you need to select less rigid parameters.

Additionally, if you do a search for an exact match of “John Smith” with a birth year of 1827 and a death date of 1917, you aren’t going to get a match for census records.  You will only get a match for those records that contain an indexed death date.

3.  If it’s not indexed, you won’t find it either.

If there is no field available for the information, or if the field simply wasn’t indexed, narrowing or broadening your search based on that field isn’t going to help either.  A search of the 1870 census for John Smith narrowed by an exact match for his uniquely-named wife, “Abracadabra,” isn’t going to help you at all.  Why?  Because the 1870 census doesn’t identify spouses.  Remove that parameter, and narrow your search using parameters that actually appear on the record (age, race, gender, birthplace, etc.), and you’ll get better results.  Be warned!  You might actually have to use your research skills to determine which one is yours.

4.  Use the Collection Priority button.  Seriously.  Use it. 

I mentioned this in my post from June 2013, but it bears repeating (plus, the graphics have changed, so I thought I’d include another screenshot).


If your ancestor was born in the United States and never left, you shouldn’t need to search any records outside of the U.S.  So … tell Ancestry to only search those.  Select the collection you want AND CLICK THE BOX THAT SAYS “ONLY” SEARCH THESE.  Then you won’t end up with 874,000 matches for records in other countries, when it obviously could not be your person.  If you don’t click the box, the U.S. records will get priority, but you’ll still end up with 874,000 records from other countries because you only gave the U.S. priority, not exclusivity (all figures are completely fictional).

You can further limit your search by unchecking those other boxes below the collection priority if you don’t want to see a bunch of unsourced family trees or photos attached to people but have no provenance.

So if your intent is to cast a wide net and see what bubbles up to the top, you want to use your “exact” matches sparingly.  If you know exactly what you’re looking for, I recommend narrowing your search before you even start searching.  How?  By going to the card catalog and selecting the record group you want to find, THEN enter your search parameters.  Why do it this way?  Well, because the search window will only let you fill in those fields that are pertinent to that record group, that’s why.  Then it’s not looking for things like I enumerated in the examples above.

I’m just going to put this out there – Ancestry has been talking about killing old search now for almost a year.  If you haven’t taken the few minutes (seriously – like less than an hour) to watch one of the videos, read one of the blogs, or play around with the new search features – then it’s your own fault that you aren’t getting the results you want.  It’s kind of like knowing for a year that there’s a flood coming and then getting pissed off because everyone else has figured out how to row a boat and you’re still trying to keep your car from sinking.

You’ll either learn to use it or you won’t.  If you’ve chosen the latter, then stop whining about it.

*I’m not saying Ancestry’s search is perfect.  It isn’t.  Far from it.  It will never be perfect because it’s designed by humans.  Michael John Neill has an infinite number of examples of how messed up Ancestry’s search really is.  However, it is also not designed to do your research for you.  It is only designed to make it easier to find the documents you need to do your research.



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Old Search is Dead. Long Live New Search! — 8 Comments

    • Thanks, Donna. Ancestry’s search (for the most part) is very logical … which I think is part of the problem. Logic and common sense are something that are lacking in our world these days.

  1. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! It is time for a little tough love. I noticed that one person who complained bitterly about the new search not bringing back any records had filled in a place that did not exist (and by looking at the drop down choices he could have seen his error). No – it was Ancestry’s fault for not knowing he meant a completely different state than the one he typed in.

    I cannot even remember what old search looked like because since Ancestry first mentioned the change, I started playing with it, watching the videos and asking questions. This change has been a long time coming and perhaps Ancestry should have given us a shorter time to get on the stick. Reminds me on the complaints about Microsoft ending support for Windows XP – seriously let’s be willing to change things up and work with improvements.

    Great post and good screen captures – I agree, you can’t break it so put it through its paces and please, constructive criticism.

    • Thanks, Tessa! It’s pretty simple: no matter how you slice it, five-clicks-instead-of-three is STILL faster and easier than driving across the country to a repository or waiting by your mailbox for six weeks. I’m baffled that people are in such an uproar over it.

  2. I agree with Alex, love your style and humor and your take on this subject is refreshing and mirrors mine. This post is saved to my favorites and will be shared the next time (and there will be a next time) that the whining and complaining about old search manifests.

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