Learning Ancestry.com

Yesterday I gave a short, basic talk on learning to use the popular genealogy website Ancestry for the Monument chapter, National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution. I provided a one-page handout–since we were a few copies short, I decided to post the handout here. Since it was confined to one printed page, it’s a bit telegraphic, but it may be useful!

Library vs. subscription

Ancestry is available in two versions: Library Edition and several subscription editions. Ancestry Library Edition is available for use in many public libraries (including Hennepin County, Minnesota), but has some differences from the subscription versions in the features and databases included. To find the specifics of what is or is not included in Library Edition, Google “ancestry library edition vs regular.”

Tips for finding Ancestry records

Don’t: Search from the home page!
Do: Search from
• The collection home page (e.g., the Census and Voter Lists collection page). You can reach these pages from the Search dropdown menu, the Record Collections links on the home page, or the Special Collections links on the Search page.
• The database home page (e.g., 1940 United States Federal Census)—this gives you the most specific search parameters, tailored to the individual database.
Use the Search page (accessible by clicking twice on the Search tab) to drill down to collections for localities (e.g., U.S. states and counties).
Use the Card Catalog (accessible from the Search tab and from the Search page) to find databases, then search from the database home page.

Working with trees

Ancestry trees are available in subscription versions, but not in Library Edition. You can build a tree from scratch or upload a GEDCOM. Living people are private by default; you control whether your tree as a whole is public or private. Trees generate hinting, which can be helpful.


AncestryDNA is an autosomal test, available for both men and women. It tests DNA you inherit from anywhere in your pedigree (male or female ancestors), going back about five to six (or more) generations. When you test with Ancestry, you will see three things on your AncestryDNA page:
Genetic ancestry information, including your ethnicity estimate (percentage of DNA attributed to continents/regions). Experts consider these accurate to the continental level (e.g., 100% European). You may also belong to one or more genetic communities (groups of testers descended from a common ancestral population, e.g., Munster Irish).
DNA matches, including estimated relationship (e.g., immediate family, 2nd-3rd cousin) and amount of DNA shared with the match. If you and your match have the same ancestor in public trees attached to your DNA, you may get a Shared Ancestor Hint (shaky leaf).
DNA circles and New Ancestor Discoveries. DNA circles are groups of testers who share DNA and have the same ancestor on their public tree. New Ancestor Discoveries appear when you share DNA with a group of people who have an ancestor in their public tree, but your public tree doesn’t include that ancestor.

Help resources

Help pages: Use the support center to find help with subscriptions, working with trees, buying or activating DNA kits, records and searching.
The Ancestry wiki: Use the Ancestry wiki—free online copies of The Source and Ancestry’s Red Book. TIP: You will need to Google “Ancestry wiki” to find it!
Ancestry Academy. Videos—various lengths, different presenters, lots of topics (DNA, working with trees, using the Ancestry app and other products, records, methods and skills, localities and ethnic research)