Getting the most out of our online offerings
By Andrew Hanson-Dvoracek
Web Content Coordinator
AmericanAncestors.org offers thousands of searchable, digitized collections containing more than one billion records. These collections include vital records, cemetery records, probate records, genealogies, and scholarly journals. View a complete list of our databases. Learn how to get the most of your AmericanAncestors.org search using the tips and techniques below. You can also watch a video tutorial on how to navigate our site and search our databases.
To access records from all databases on AmericanAncestors.org, you must be an NEHGS member and you must be logged in.
1) Go to AmericanAncestors.org and click “Login” at the very top of the page.
2) Enter your username and password.
3) You can now search all databases and access results!
If you are not an NEHGS member, you can register for free as a Guest User and access records from a limited number of databases.
Start broad by using the Quick Search on the homepage. Even if you already know a lot about the person you’re searching for (year range, place, etc.), the Quick Search will execute the most comprehensive search of all our databases. Enter a first and last name to begin. If you want to narrow your search results use our search or if you’d like to broaden your search results even more, consider using wildcards or Soundex (see below).
Watch a video about searching our databases.
The keyword field is a powerful tool that searches record text, as well as all other search fields and NEHGS web pages. If you find a search tip on a database that recommends searching that database by keyword, only use the keyword field and leave all other fields blank
Searching by Database
You can narrow your search by database. You can select a specific database in a few different ways:
- Choose a database from our catalog of databases
- Click the drop down listing under “Database” and select the collection you would like to browse. The listing under “Database” here shows an alphabetical listing of all databases. You can also check one of boxes next to “Database” to narrow down the listing by your favorites or by free-access collections.
- Click the drop down listing under “Category” and select the type of collections you are interested in searching (e.g. Vital Records, Diaries and Transcripts, Genealogies, etc.). If you then click on the drop down listing under “Database” only the databases relevant to your selected category will appear.
Watch a video about browsing our databases.
Once you select the database you are interested in, search for the individual as you would normally.
Note: When selecting a specific database from the search page, be sure to read any applicable search tips that appear just above the search button. These tips will inform you when a database should only be searched by entering criteria in the keyword field.
Scholarly journals and periodicals are important, yet often overlooked, resources. AmericanAncestors.org offers thousands of searchable issues from a number of journals, including our own New England Historic and Genealogical Register, the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record, The Mayflower Descendant, and many others. Searching journals on our website is different than searching other records:
- Names can be searched using the “First Name” and “Last Name” fields, while article titles can be searched using the keyword field at the bottom of the form.
- By default, searching a periodical will return every instance of a name within an article. However, if you are looking for a list of articles with a particular keyword in the title some journals offer the “Article Title Only Filter” found toward the bottom of the screen. Check this box and each individual article will be returned once.
- When searching journals and other periodicals, the year you see in your search results refers to the publication year and not a year tied to the person you are searching for. Don’t preclude these records because of that shown date!
- Once you are at a database image, you can navigate between volumes and pages of the journal, see a grid view of the page, and find citation information just as you would when viewing a vital record.
Each populated search field executes an exact search. Wildcards used within your search terms can help broaden your results. In this context, a wildcard refers to a single character that can represent one or a series of unknown characters—as in poker, a wildcard can represent any other card. They are especially helpful when searching for ancestors: consider how many times you have seen misspellings, transcription mistakes, and other inconsistencies in the records. Note: A wildcard can be used within the First Name, Last Name, and Keyword fields and must follow at least two known characters. Supported wildcards include:
|Operator||Applicable Search Fields||Usage||Example|
|?||Keyword; First Name; Last Name; Location||Represents any single character||Hans?n returns Hansen and Hanson|
|*||Keyword; First Name; Last Name; Location||Replaces zero or more characters; best used for spelling variations or a series of unknown characters.||Wood* returns Wood, Woods, Woodward, Woodbury, and others|
If the name of the person you are searching for was commonly misspelled, consider using Soundex. Soundex is a phonetic algorithm that indexes names by sound rather than letter. To use Soundex on AmericanAncestors.org, check the box above “Name” on the search screen. You will see various spellings of the name, all phonetically similar to that which you are searching for.
AmericanAncestors.org allows you to save your favorite searches to your user profile for future use. By saving your repeat searches you can access them from any computer you use to log onto our website; the search is re-executed each time you bring it up so corrections and additions we make to our database will be reflected in your search; and it saves you time and keeps your search parameters consistent.
To save a search, perform a search as you would normally. When you are happy with the search, click on the “Save Search” button at the top of the search results. Note: If you wish to make refinements or changes after saving the search, you will have to save it again under a different name.
To find and re-execute your saved searches, go to your user profile by clicking “My Account” at the top of the screen near our seal. From here your saved searches will be the second option, where you can execute them.
You can also create a list of favorite or frequently used databases and search those as a group or individually. To create your list of favorite databases:
1) While viewing database records, you can save the collection you are currently viewing by clicking Favorite below the database name.
2) You can also save a favorite database while browsing databases by clicking on the star in the table.
Note: If you no longer want a database in your favorites, simply click the star again.
To pull up your list favorite databases for a search, go to the search screen and check the box “Favorite(s) only” near the middle of the form next to “Database.” When you open the database drop down list (by clicking on the down arrow under “Database”) you will only see the databases from your favorite list. Select one or use all to execute your search.
Once your search results are returned, click on the name in the record listing.
Viewer tools are at the upper-left corner of the window. These include: Download, Print; Zoom-in, Zoom-out, Restore Original View; and Full-screen view.
To “pan” or move the image around in the image viewers, place your cursor over the image, click and hold your mouse button, then drag the image around as you move your mouse or drag your finger across your touchpad.
Printing and Saving Records
(We are currently experiencing difficulties with the Print and Save functions on Internet Explorer. These operations are functional on other modern browsers and appreciate your patience as we continue to investigate this.
To save or print a database image for your own records, use the Download and Print button at the upper left hand corner of the image. This will open a new tab to print or save the current view of the image.
NOTE: For some databases, these files will be very large. To limit the image to that portion which appears in your browser view, check “Current View” before clicking Download or Print.
You can find database citation on the search result page, located below the database name by clicking “Citiation Information”. Certain databases will have a more detailed citation. The Great Migration, The American Genealogist and New Netherland Connections will also display a list of pdfs containing various front-matter from the original publication. You can click “View Records” to return to the image you were viewing.
Want to maximize your research? The experts at NEHGS can help! We offer a number of services that can help you break down brick walls and expand your research.
Meet one-on-one with our genealogists
Want research guidance from a professional genealogist? Our experts provide 30-minute to two-hour consultations in person or by phone.
- Find elusive ancestors—Whether you are searching in the U.S. or abroad, in the 17th or 20th century, our genealogists have the knowledge to assist you.
- Locate and use records—Vital records, military records, deeds, probate, and more—if you’re wondering where to look for them, how to read them, or what data you can find in them, we can guide you.
- Get more out of technology—Feel like you could be making better use of your genealogy software? Curious about websites and databases that might be relevant to your research? Let us help!
Hire our experts in Research Services
Whether you are just beginning your family research or have been researching for years, NEHGS Research Services is here to assist you. Our team of experts can:
- Conduct hourly research
- Break down “brick walls”
- Retrieve manuscript materials
- Obtain probate records
- Research and prepare your lineage society application
- Organize your materials and files
- Write narrative biographies about your ancestors
- Create customized family charts