Start broad by using the Quick Search box in the upper right hand corner of each page. This box includes a dropdown menu to allow you to select between searching our databases, our library catalog, or the website itself. By default, this box is set to apply your search term(s) to a database search. 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 Advanced Search or if you’d like to broaden your search results even more, consider using wildcards or Soundex (see below).
To narrow your search results, use our Advanced Search to add known information about your search subject, to search by database, to use Soundex, and to utilize other features. The Advanced Search form can be accessed by hovering over “Search” on the main website navigation and clicking on “Databases”.
You will then be presented with the main search form consisting of the most commonly used search criteria. You can expand this search form to include additional fields by selecting “Advanced Search” at the bottom of this form:
The advanced search form includes the option to search by a specific database, and it also allows you to identify the names of parents and/or spouses related to the primary individual. Please note that not all databases have family member information available. You may identify up to three family members by selecting “Add family members” at the bottom of the form:
The keywords field is a powerful tool that searches record text, as well as all other search fields. 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.
You can narrow your search by database. You can select a specific database in a few different ways:
- Access the Database page in our Browse section to view a list of all of our online collections. Clicking on the magnifying glass icon next to one of these databases will take you to the advanced search form with that database preselected.
- From the main database search form, click “Advanced Search” to reveal the database drop down menu and select the collection you would like to search. 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 favorite, free-access collections, and/or collections that have associated images.
- From the main database search form, click “Advanced Search” to reveal the category drop down menu 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.
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 advanced 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 keywords field.
- 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” parameter. Check this box and each individual article will be returned once. Please note that you should only enter information in the keywords field if you have checked this box.
- 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 names on the page, and find citation information just as you would when viewing a vital record.
By default, our search engine applies a phonetic algorithm to your search terms to include alternate spellings of names in your results. You may elect to conduct an exact search by checking the “Exact Search” box on the main search form to match each individual field exactly as you enter it. Wildcards used within your search terms can also 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 three known characters. Supported wildcards include:
Applicable Search Fields
Keyword; First Name; Last Name (including family members)
Represents any single character
Hans?n returns Hansen and Hanson
Keyword; First Name; Last Name (including family members)
Replaces zero or more characters; best used for spelling variations or a series of unknown characters.
Wood* returns Wood, Woods, Woodward, Woodbury, and others
Used around phrases; all words must be next to each other in the results
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 Soundex box near the top of the main search form. You will see various spellings of the name, all phonetically similar to that which you are searching for. This feature is different from the default phonetic search in that it is a distinct formula that is only applied to the Last Name field.
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, fill out the Search form as you would normally and execute the search. On the Search Results screen, you will be presented with the option to save your search in the upper right hand corner of the list of search results:
Note: If you wish to make refinements or changes after saving the search, you will have to save it again as a separate search.
To find and re-execute your saved searches, go to your user profile by clicking on “My Account” at the top of the screen. You may then click on “Saved Searches” to be taken to a list of your saved searches, identified by the date the search was conducted and the terms you provided.
You can also access your saved searches directly from the database search form in the upper right hand corner of the page:
You can also create a list of favorite or frequently used databases and search those as a group. To create your list of favorite databases access the Database page in our Browse section to view a list of all of our online collections. Click on the star icon next to any database to add it as one of your favorites. This star icon is also available on any record detail page, so you also have the option to identify a database as one of your favorites while viewing any record contained within.
Note: If you no longer want a database in your favorites, return to the Database page in the Browse section and click on the star icon once more to remove it from your favorites.
To search for records contained within your favorite databases, navigate to the advanced search form and select the Favorites checkbox near the Database Type label.
Once your search results are returned, click on the link listed in the “Name” column to view the record.
If an image is available for the selected record, you will be presented with the image viewer. Viewer tools are at the top left corner of the window. You will have the option to Download or Print the image as displayed in the viewer. Select the “As Original” box to download or print the entire image. With your mouse cursor in the image viewing window, you will see four icons in the upper left corner. The plus sign icon will zoom in, the minus sign icon will zoom out, the house icon will reset the image to its default view, and the arrow icon will toggle full screen mode to allow the image to fill your screen. Above the image viewer, you have the option to navigate to another volume or page, if supported by the current database.
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. Note: If you are a Mac user with a newer version of Safari 4.0.4+, try engaging full screen mode to manipulate the image.
All browsers can print from our image viewer. Pop-ups must be enabled in order to see the print dialog. Learn how to disable your pop-up blocker.
1) Select the “Print” button above the top left corner of the image viewer. Selecting the “As Original” check box will print the entire image. Leaving this box unchecked will print the image as it is currently displayed in the viewing window.
2) If you have a pop-up blocker enabled, you will encounter difficulties printing until you disable this feature.
4) Once pop-ups are enabled, a window will appear with your printer options. Set your preferences and select "Print."
Select the “Download” button above the top left corner of the image viewer. Selecting the “As Original” check box will download the entire image. Leaving this box unchecked will download the image as it is currently displayed in the viewing window.
If you are using Firefox:
a) A pop-up window will appear, asking if you would like to open or save the image. Select the "Save" option.
b) Select the arrow icon in the upper right hand corner of the browser to view your downloaded files.
If you are using Chrome:
a) In Chrome, the image will save automatically to your desktop or preferred image folder.
b) In order to view the image, select the "Show All Downloads" link located at the bottom of your screen.
You can find the preferred database citation on the record detail page by selecting “Citation Information” located under the name of the database. You can also find additional information about the database and its source material on the record detail page by selecting “About this Database” located under the name of the database.
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