As someone who has used Ancestry.com for many years, I wanted to answer a nagging question that has been bugging me for some time. To get the most from my Ancestry.com subscription, do I really need to invest in a supplementary reference such as Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com written by Nancy Hendrickson? In practical terms, is shelling out the money for a book to supplement my subscription worth it?
Back in the early days of the personal computer, every piece of software came with an accompanying software manual to instruct the user on how to install and operate the software. Now days, there is a basic assumption that software is designed to be so intuitive that a manual is unnecessary.
Just by poking around and trying things, you should be able to figure out how to be successful using it. If you have trouble, you can just reach out to the web to find others having the same difficulty and find out how they got around it. Maybe even find a YouTube how-to video showing how to solve it.
So, is this also true for users of Ancestry.com? My answer is that everyone could benefit from reading a book like Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com. Speaking from personal experience, it is true that I was able to get along just fine for years without resorting to buying a supplementary book.
But, I could have certainly benefited if I had read it earlier and saved a lot of time and frustration getting over the learning curve. For me time is money, so the small price of a book is well worth all the time saved by following its expert guidance.
The book is filled with practical advice on how to use Ancestry.com effectively with individual chapters on searching different record types. One of the most important pieces of advice for users is the need to create family trees for all the family lines they are researching.
That way they can take advantage of all the “shaky leaf” hints that appear for your family members. This “free” research, which goes on in the background, allows for records to be found and saved that you probably had no idea even existed. As more records get indexed and added daily to Ancestry, new discoveries are very likely. After all, the promise of new records is how Ancestry retains their legion of subscribers.
Also contained in the book are many hints on making your record searches more effective. The nature of how information is collected and indexed for search means records often have misspellings and other inaccuracies. In my own family research, my last name alone was misspelled about 12 different ways!
When using Ancestry, it is not enough just to do a basic search on the exact spelling of a name and then settle for what you find. You will pass over the very records you want because your search was too specific. Often, several different approaches are required to hone in on the records you seek.
Unfortunately, finding records in Ancestry can be more art than science, making the search tips in this book particularly valuable to readers. Successful Ancestry users use the card catalog to search individual collections, experiment with wildcards, use fuzzy name searches and add other pieces of family information to their searches.
Those with little experience using Ancestry and those who feel overwhelmed by it are best suited to benefit from Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com. Old pros with years of experience using the service would benefit most from the chapters devoted to finding specific record types. In my opinion, this book would be a welcome addition to anyone’s genealogy library and well worth its price.
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