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www.ancestry.co.uk (or .com)

Like many people, this was the first site I subscribed to. If you go onto a search engine as a new researcher, and look for anything even vaguely associated with genealogy - ‘Ancestry’ will find you and you will find it. Even on other sites, a ‘free surname search’ by any other guise will lead you straight back to the ‘Ancestry’ home page. This is not a criticism. Well done Ancestry for some very clever marketing techniques.

Like many new researchers, I signed up for just the first 3 months with the full intention of cramming all my searches into this time frame. After 3 months I let my membership lapse. Not for long. I just needed the reassurance that a census report was just a ‘click’ away. So, after just 3 days of withdrawal symptoms, I went back in and subscribed for another 12 months. I don’t even use the site that much these days, but I just like to know it is there if I need it.

Like every other site, it isn’t perfect and I think there are things it can do really well and things it doesn’t do so well. As a user you have to decide yourself how to get the most from the functionality.

From a UK viewpoint, you can search on a combination of census records every ten years between 1861 through to1901 (1851 to be released soon). You can also include searches on probate records, civil registrations and marriage index’s. As a personal opinion, I find these searches too unspecific and they pull out way too much information. If I had an ancestor with a common name, I would be sat for over an hour just trawling through every ‘John Smith’ born between 1800 and 1802. (I checked, and that’s over 67,000 records).That’s not what you really want to be doing with your time.

You would think that if I entered ‘John Smith’ born in Lancashire, that the system would filter out any other county that wasn’t Lancashire - but it doesn’t. They are all mixed up with each other. Okay - so maybe the results page would at least list the Lancashire Mr Smiths first? Nope- doesn’t do that either.How about listing my results by date of birth? No - the dates are all over the place. I love this website and the best thing I like about it are the census reports. However, you do need to manage your searches so that the results are manageable.

I would strongly recommend searching by one census at a time, (as in 1901 for example) and adding as much information as possible to find the actual result you are looking for. I have noticed that they now have a new facility called ‘ranked search’ where you can at least get the results in order of Parish or Town and there is also a star system where you can find the ‘best fit’. I did try this new facility, but even with exact data which I knew to be correct - requesting 5 star results only - failed to find my relative. I lowered my search to 4 star results and found my Grandfather. I guess the sheer size of this database is such that you do have to get your search specifics just right. Not too much information, but not too little.

The area of ‘Ancestry’ that I never liked before because I thought it was a waste of space, was the search by birth registration. However I have just noted that they have recently updated this area to give the user some very valuable information. Well done guys. I can now get the date and county of registration, along with the register number, sub district and entry number. Armed with this information, I can now go and order my birth certificates. This really is a big leap forward.

I am still not too impressed with the marriage search. I failed to find my Grandmothers wedding even though I already had her marriage certificate and knew the exact details. I viewed another persons wedding details to see what level of usable information I could pull out. Basically I would be interested to know the name of a spouse and if possible the data required by which I could order a copy of the certificate. I could still only view the others on the page, which as there were four people on the page - left me guessing which bride matched which groom. If ‘Ancestry’ can do with the marriage searches what they have now done with the birth searches - this would be a formidable tool.

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