This post looks at how you can find hidden Ancestry records. These are records that you won’t find using a general search and could be very valuable to your research. Using the card catalogue instead of general search can be much more productive for finding your ancestors.

How to find Hidden Ancestry Records. Bespoke Genealogy

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General Search

Ancestry General search. Bespoke Genealogy

The General Search on Ancestry

I would always recommend that subscribers to Ancestry do not use the general search function. The number of results returned can be vast, even when one filters them down. It’s always best to use the Card Catalogue and search specific record collections. Often the search fields are different for specific collections, so there is a better chance of finding the desired record.

The Card Catalogue

Ancestry Card Catalogue. Bespoke Genealogy

The Card Catalogue on Ancestry

There is also another crucial reason why you should use the Card Catalogue and that is some record sets are browse only. In other words they cannot be searched, so you will never find them using the general search; they are in fact hidden from view.

Browse Only Records

These browse only records are not easy to find on Ancestry. The only way to find out whether or not a collection is searchable is to click on its link in the Card Catalogue and see if it has search fields.

Ancestry has thousands of record sets, so I would recommend using the search fields (Title and Keyword(s)) to find sets in the area you’re interested in. For example if you are looking for ancestors in the English county of Essex, typing in the name of the county in the Title field returns 12 results. By clicking on the collections you’re interested in, you’ll find out whether the set is browse only.

Ancestry Browse Only Record. Bespoke Genealogy

An example of a browse only record on Ancestry

You’ll then obviously have to browse through the set to find any useful information.

Examples of Browse Only Records

I don’t know how many of Ancestry’s collections are browse only. The site has 32,673 worldwide record sets and I haven’t looked at them all. But let’s look at a smaller group of collections as an example, and see how many are not searchable.

Ancestry has 173 record sets in its Irish collections. I’ve looked at all of them and discovered three that are browse only:

The first two collections above are interesting and maybe useful, but it’s the third collection that is really significant. If you have Irish ancestors, missing the Irish newspaper collection in the general search could be a big deal and may even break down a “brick wall”

The Irish newspaper collection on Ancestry contains around 30 titles dating from 1763 to 1890. With the loss of many valuable records in Ireland, especially after the Dublin fire in 1922, newspapers can be an incredibly useful genealogical source. Newspapers contain birth, marriage and death announcements, obituaries, court proceedings, advertisements, ship departures/arrivals and, of course, news items which can all be useful for the family historian.

The Ancestry collection of Irish newspapers is relatively small, but is still useful. For information on other collections see Find Your Irish Ancestors with Online Newspapers.

So, about 1.7% of Ancestry’s Irish records are browse only. If it’s the same percentage of worldwide records that are not searchable then that equates to about 560 record sets that you will not find in the general search. The card catalogue is your friend!

Happy researching!

For further reading, you may find these books interesting:

For more great genealogy books, see the Resources section.

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