Tag Archives: Ancestry.com

Tips and Tricks for Searching Ancestry.com

I have to say that between the new “Pennsylvania Church and Town Records, 1708-1985″ Collection on Ancestry.com and the “Pennsylvania County Marriages, 1885-1950″ on FamilySearch.org I have been filling in so many “blanks” that I’ve lost count! I’ve been finding exact birth, marriage and death dates, names of parents and maiden names of spouses! I’ll probably blog about some of my specific finds soon, but for now I wanted to post a quick tip on searching the Church and Town Collection on Ancestry.

So, I started out doing a search for “Daniel Ecker.” The following is a screen shot of a portion of the results that were returned: (hint: if a screen shot is too small to read, click on it to see a larger view)

Search Results

I then click on the top result and view the image. It turns out to be Daniel’s marriage record in the church register of Christ Episcopal Church in Pottstown, Montgomery Co, PA. Now I’m thinking I want to see what else I can find in that particular church register. Unfortunately, there’s no direct way to search just that register – the best you can do is limit the search to the entire “Pennsylvania Church and Town” collection. But there is a way to get almost what you want by setting the search parameters appropriately.

First, limit the search to the “PA Church and Town” collection. You can do this through the card catalog feature, but I find it a lot easier to do by clicking on the banner as shown in the image below.

Now you will get the following search box:

The key thing here is to use the advanced search, then on the “Any Event” option, set the location of the church and “restrict to exact.” You could also set the year and range and click “Exact only” to further limit the scope of the query. As I have the query set up, Ancestry will only return results from Pottstown, PA.  This limits the number of churches to only those in Pottstown and greatly increases the chance that the results returned will be relevant.

Advanced Search in Ancestry – A Success Story

Every once in a while I manage to stumble across an option or feature that I have either not realized was there or didn’t recognize for its usefulness.  Case in point is the Ancestry’s advanced search which provides various options for reigning in a search based on geographic area in conjunction with family members, etc. To better explain this, I guess I should start at the beginning of the story…

Off and on for about the last five or six years I have been unsuccessfully searching for my husband’s great-grandparents, Andrew and Anna Stibrik and their family, in the 1920 census. They should have been in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — but all my searches were drawing a blank. I almost had myself convinced that when they saw the census taker coming, they locked the doors and hid!! A week or so ago, I finally found them! I thought I would relate the story here as the techniques used may help someone else in their searching.

I started with the Ancestry’s Advanced Search. (I always use advanced search as opposed to regular search.) Since Stibrik is not a real common surname, I did what I typically do, which is to search on just the surname along with an approximate year of birth. But I had tried that before and knew it wasn’t going to work. I had also tried all kinds of variations of Stibrik — like Stibrick, Stibryk, etc. I had tried to think of ways it could be misspelled or misinterpreted by the indexers (due to sloppy or otherwise illegible handwriting). So I had tried Stebrek, Strebreck, Stibrink, etc. I also usually try to think of alternate phonetic spellings based on how a person might pronounce it with an accent; but to be honest, in the case of Stibrik I really wasn’t sure how that could be mispronounced.

After having no luck with the surname-based searches, I figured the last name was either very badly mangled or just plain wrong. (i.e. Perhaps the Stibriks were living with another family and were erroneously enumerated under that family’s surname.) So as a next step I tried searching on just the first names. Andrew, Andr’w, Andy, etc. with wife Anna or Annie. (I was able to add the wife as a family member and have it incorporated into the search because I was targeting a census after 1880 and thus family relationships were recorded.) Theoretically this should have worked, but the problem was the overwhelming number of “wrong” hits that Ancestry was presenting before the “correct” hit.

Why were the “wrong” hits appearing first? Well, probably a couple of reasons. If I used “Andrew” as the first name, all “Andrews” appear before those enumerated with “Andrw” or “Andy” or “A.” Adding a “lived in constraint” will give preference to those in the correct location, but will still list an “Andrew” in another state before an “Andy” in the targeted “lived in” location. Add to this that the husband could be enumerated as “Andy” and the wife as “Annie” or maybe they were “Andrw” and “A.” Bottom line, I just wasn’t hitting the correct combination. And this was compounded by the fact that both Andrew and Anna are relatively common names.

So what did I do? Well, first of all, I loaded up on family members. In addition to Andrew and Anna, I knew that 5 of their 6 children were born before 1920, so I added in their names in the “family member” section. Then I clicked on “add life events” and put in the location of  “Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania” as chosen from the drop down list. Then (and I think this was key), underneath the box containing “Pittsburgh”, I clicked on “use default settings.” A pop up menu came up and I clicked on the “restrict to this place exactly.”  I also added in an approximate birth year for Andrew, but left the place blank because he was born in Austria/Hungary and I wasn’t sure if the birth place would be recorded as Austria, Hungary, or Czechoslovakia.

Now when the results came back, one of the options returned (about the 8th or 9th choice) was the family of Andy and Annie Stiewick. I checked out the image and it is definitely them. And it definitely says Stiewick instead of Stibrik. (What can I say, I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out misspellings based on a German or PA Dutch accent, but I’ve got a way to go with a Slovak accent! It’s a variation I wouldn’t have come up with in a thousand years!)

Some other tips – I often have better luck searching for one of the children rather than a parent (especially in early censuses (1850-1870) where the family relationship are not recorded. I think this is because the adults have a greater tendency to fudge on their age, making them easier to miss when looking for a George age 32 and he decides he’ll only be 28 when the census taker asks! I also tend to search on a family member with a less common (but easily spelled) first name. In other words, it’s often easier to find the son Horatio than the father John. Also keep in mind nicknames and abbreviations (like Jno. for John or Saml for Samuel) and don’t forget to try also searching with them.

Well, I hope this helps. I only wish I had tried the exact place match sooner!!