3 Easy Steps to Starting on Ancestry.com


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Today, I’m going to talk about another genealogy website – Ancestry. This post is specifically geared toward being a beginner’s guide to Ancestry. In particular, the different options for signing up and what exactly you can do and find when you initially start.

Ancestry – The behemoth in the world of genealogy

Originally started in 1983 as a simple genealogy newsletter, Ancestry’s genealogical service set is now one of the most robust in the world. Its collection of genealogical records even rivals that of the LDS church, however with one limitation: it’s hidden (for most people) behind a paywall.

Despite this limitation, Ancestry has become a genealogical powerhouse and for several years running it has been (and continues to be) the top genealogy website in the United States. Included in its repertoire are several services and sites: AncestryDNA (my review upcoming), AncestryHealth (still in beta), AncestryProGenealogists, Archives.com, FindAGrave (my review upcoming), Fold3 (my review upcoming), Newspapers.com, and Rootsweb. They used to offer Family Tree Maker as software to purchase for your home computer, but as of December 2015, they discontinued that service. However, for any Family Tree Maker fans out there, you can continue to get the software here.

Still, it is a great website and with the many wonderful resources connected to it – one of the best genealogical websites (particularly for United States records) hands down. I personally use it in conjunction with FamilySearch as the two complement each other very well for the kind of genealogical work that I do.

 Accessing Ancestry

 If you are a first timer when it comes to Ancestry.com, there are a few routes you can go:
1) Try out a 14-day free trial
2) Jump right in and choose from one of their three (3) paid memberships*
3) If you are LDS, go talk to your ward/branch family history consultant and see if you can get a free Ancestry account through your FamilySearch account.

3b) Check out your local FHC (Family History Center).

1) Try out a 14-day free trial

If you are just beginning your journey into family history, I’d recommend the first option. It lets you create a family tree and start playing with many of the options that Ancestry has available without an initial outlay of money. The only recommendation I make with this option, is to decide which collection would be best for you in the next month or six months, as Ancestry will automatically turn your free trial into the paid membership (that you chose) UNLESS you specifically tell them otherwise.

 2) Jump Right In

If you are pretty well-versed in what you are looking for (family history wise), option two is great. You can choose from one of the three (3) options:

U.S. Discovery – all documents on Ancestry from the US.
World Explorer – all documents on Ancestry from the US and around the world.

All-Access – all documents on Ancestry PLUS access to Fold3.com and a basic subscription to Newspapers.com

Screenshot from Ancestry.com listing subscription prices
Screenshot from Ancestry.com

*Technically, Ancestry has a free ‘Basic’ membership, however, it is severely limited in what you can search and save. It is also incredibly difficult to find on their website. If you’d like to create a free family tree on Ancestry, however – here is the link.

3) Ancestry’s LDS account

If you are LDS, you have another option – free access to (almost) everything on Ancestry.com (rough access equivalent to the World Explorer account) with your FamilySearch account (and LDSAccount). The easiest way to use this option is to find your ward or branch’s Family History Consultant and ask them for help. That is literally their calling/job – helping people do their genealogy.

3b) Family History Center

The last option – and this is accessible to all people, LDS or not – is to find your local Family History Center. Depending on the center, they’ll have varying hours and days during the week. Centers are also usually situated in some kind of LDS church building or local public library. The centers are also staffed by volunteers, who are well versed in the materials available there. The one major drawback to this option is that you are confined to doing your genealogy during the times that the FHC is open – which isn’t always convenient.

1) Creating an Account

Main page of Ancestry website with notations for different buttons and options.

Here is the main page of Ancestry.com. As you can see, there are several options to choose from.

  • The green button takes you to where you can put your information in and start a free trial.
  • If you’d rather jump right in (example: if you have an Ancestry account through your FamilySearch account), click on the SIGN IN tab.
  • If you don’t have an account, but are ready to create one and start paying for a subscription, go to the left-hand side of the page (white arrow) where it says ‘Don’t have an account? Click here.’

The ‘Start Free Trial‘ and ‘Don’t have an account? Click here.‘ will take you to this page. It will show you the different subscriptions, their costs, and more detail on what is offered in each subscription. Once you choose what you would like, you’ll be prompted to create a family tree (as shown below), name it, and decide whether to keep it private or make it public. Don’t stress too much over whether it is initially private or public. As the owner of the family tree, you can always switch it from private to public and vice versa at a later date. That said, although not strictly necessary, I always start off with my family trees private until I can add a sufficient amount of correct information and I feel comfortable making it public.

If you click on the ‘Sign In’ tab, it will open a drop-down menu for you to put in your username (or email address) and password.

2) Ancestry’s Dashboard

Whether you’ve created a new account or signed in through an LDS Account, the first page you will see is your dashboard/home page.

Ancestry Dashboard with notations for the different options offered.

At the top is a bar with various drop-down options:
Home‘ – which is the dashboard (the picture above)
Trees‘  – which shows you the trees you are the owner of OR have access to
Search‘ – allows you to search specific groups of collections (such as military records or censuses)
DNA‘ – if you have taken the AncestryDNA test, this tab take you to the AncestryDNA information connected to your account
Help‘ – lets you access FAQs, community questions, or hire an expert

Extras‘ – access to miscellaneous stuff including information about iOS & Android apps and other odds & ends

 The first block in the middle of the dashboard will be your current family tree with some summary information such as:
  • Recent records viewed (in case you want to go back to a specific record)
  • Total number of people in the tree
  • The number of photos attached to people in your tree
  • How many ancestors with hints.
  • You’ll also find links to the ‘Home Ancestor’ – generally yourself in most trees – and ‘Most Recently Viewed Ancestor’.

The second block (right below it) is a basic Search box. It’s great for jumping in and finding what information Ancestry might have on a given ancestor.

The third block (at the bottom) is general news from Ancestry. This is where you’d find new collections that are available, so while not vitally important when creating your tree(s), it’s still good to look at every once and a while.

 To the right of these three blocks are three more of varying interest:
  • The top one allows you to customize your homepage/dashboard.
  • The middle one contains a list of various Ancestry products and services (these are generally add-ons, so they would not necessarily be part of a subscription).
  • The third block is your quick links. These are the collections that you use most frequently or want easy access to. For example, if you do a lot of French Canadian genealogy – having a quick link to the Drouin or Tanguay collections (two major French Canadian collections) on Ancestry would be helpful.
 Lastly, looking back at the top bar on the far right, you’ll see a few other buttons.
  • Hire an Expert‘ allows you to get in contact with someone and pay them to help you with your genealogy.
  • The ‘leaf’ icon tells you how many hints are available in your family tree currently. Clicking on it will take you to the ‘Hints’ page where you can see all the hints for your ancestors.
  • The ‘envelope’ is the next icon and clicking on it will take you to your inbox. So if you have messages from Ancestry or other genealogists through this website, you can access them there.
  • The last tab on the top bar is your account menu. It’ll show you your username and click on it to see various options concerning your account. This is where you’d go if you want to change your subscription, edit your profile, or update any preferences you have (like what emails Ancestry can send you).

3) Creating a Family Tree

When you initially join Ancestry, they will prompt you to create a family tree.  However, if you decide to create another family tree, there are a few different ways you can do that.

To start off, when you are in the dashboard, click on ‘Trees‘  and scroll down the ‘Create and Manage Trees‘ tab as shown below. Click on it.

You’ll go to another page that shows you all the family trees you have created or have access to. At the bottom, there are three options for creating a new tree. For the sake of this blog post, I’m just going to go through the first option.

Click on ‘Create a new tree.‘ A new screen will pop up that looks like this:

Click on the first box which says ‘Add new person‘. You will see a pop-up screen asking you to 1) verify whether the person is you are inputting information for is you or not and 2) what your vital information is. It’ll look something like this:

The reason they are asking this is simple (and not any reason to worry). Essentially, it helps you figure your relation to other people in that specific tree. For example, you could be following one branch of your family and then be curious how exactly you are related to the individual you are working on. Lo and behold, by clicking the box saying ‘I’m starting with myself’, Ancestry can tell you that info.

If you are not the starting person in the tree, just unclick the box. Nothing will happen except Ancestry won’t tell you your relationship to the various people in the tree.

Once you are done filling in all the pertinent information, click ‘Continue’ and you’ll see another screen pop up, asking you to name your tree. The screen will also explain more about the ins and outs of what you can do with your family tree and whether or not to make it public or private. Once you’ve named your tree and decided whether you want it to be public or private, click ‘Save’.

And that is it! Now you have an Ancestry account, the start of a family tree, and a basic knowledge of Ancestry’s dashboard. Next Monday, I will be posting a post on tips and tricks you can use to get the most out of your Ancestry account.

Until then, stay tenacious!

Comments? Questions?

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