By Dawne

Here are a few of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that we get at The Genealogy Center Ask Desk about searching in online databases. Maybe the answers will help some of you remote readers, too!

•    Why can’t I find anything when I type my name into Ancestry.com?

The Ancestry website has two parts to its record collections – Public Member Trees that users have created, and a collection of historical record indexes, abstracts, databases, and images. For reasons of protecting privacy, no living people are included in what the public can view of the Public Member Trees. (Although if you are an Ancestry subscriber, you can see living people that you include in your OWN tree when signed into your own account.) Some of the historical record databases will include living people since the inclusive dates might be fairly recent. One example is the “California Divorce Index, 1966-1984.” Another is the 1940 census. So it is not likely that you will find information on yourself if you type your name into the search box at Ancestry.com, unless it is in one of the historical databases that include more recent information.

•    I am typing my grandfather’s information into Ancestry.com (or FamilySearch.org) and nothing’s coming up. Why?

You might be including too much information in your search. It’s tempting to fill in all of the boxes on the Search screen in order to get the best possible match. The problem is, if you have checked the “match all items exactly” box, the records must match everything you have entered – exactly! So if you have entered your grandfather’s exact birth year, you will not get back census schedules because except for 1900, those don’t include an exact birth year; they include an age. If you have entered a county and state for a birth place, you will not get matches of records that include only a state of birth because they don’t match exactly what you have entered. Many times, “less is more,” especially with names that are not terribly common. Try including a first name (but not middle name or initial), a last name, a year of birth with +/- 2 years, and a state of birth, and see what results you get. If you get too many, you can narrow your search from there by including more information.

•    I am looking for the marriage record of my great-uncle, who married in Fort Wayne in 1950. FamilySearch has a database of marriages for Indiana that covers 1811 to 2007. Why am I not finding the record I seek?

Titles of databases often include beginning and ending years, but those usually represent the earliest and latest records included in the collection. The title doesn’t necessarily mean that the database includes all counties for all years in the title. Read the description of the collection to see what it does include. For example, on the search screen for “Indiana Marriages 1811-2007” at FamilySearch, you can click on “Learn more” to go to the FamilySearch Wiki and see a table of the counties that are included in this particular database. Then you can test the parameters of the database by searching a very common name, like “John” and the exact year you think the marriage you seek took place, with the exact county. If you get no results, the database might not include marriages for that year and county!

•    I need an obituary for someone who died in the 1950s. Can I find that online?

Again, maybe. The Genealogy Center subscribes to two newspaper databases that you can use when you are onsite. They are Newspapers.com and Newspaper Archive. There are others, such as GenealogyBank, which The Center does not have that you might be able to access at your local library or through a personal subscription of your own. All of these sites have different newspapers for different time periods. When we are asked the question, “Which one is best?” our answer has to be – the one that includes the papers for the geographic area and time period you need! Another factor to know about newspapers online is that newspapers, like other published material, are governed by copyright law. Most of the papers that have been digitized and made available online are from the mid-1920s and earlier because those are no longer protected by copyright. There are some exceptions where the newspaper has given permission for its issues to be scanned and made available, so a 1950s obituary, while not the norm, is not out of the question. Do your homework to see which site will best suit your needs before subscribing!

•    Can I buy an Allen County Public Library card if I don’t live in Allen County?

Yes, you may. But there is no reason to purchase a library card for the Allen County Public Library as a genealogist unless you plan to visit The Genealogy Center more than 10 times in one year. A subscription card is $70 annually, and if you visit 10 times in one year, it will pay for itself by allowing you to scan your card to park for free. Except for free parking for ACPL cardholders, all other services to genealogists are equal for residents and non-residents alike. No one may check out a book from The Genealogy Center, because nothing from The Center circulates. Anyone may use the research computers when visiting The Center. Local cardholders log in with their library card number; visiting researchers get a guest pass at the Ask Desk. Anyone may access The Genealogy Center’s “Free Databases” from anywhere there is an Internet connection. No one – including ACPL cardholders – may access The Genealogy Center’s “Onsite Databases” (i.e., subscription databases like Ancestry, Heritage Quest, Fold3, Newspapers.com) remotely. They can only be accessed from within an ACPL building.

Watch this space for another blog post about FAQs we get about books in the collection!