Ancestry.com indexes aren’t always right, making it more difficult to search successfully for your ancestors in old records. In many cases, you can correct those errors and help others find it in the future. Here’s how to do it.
When the announcement was made that microfilm lending from the Family History Library was ending, we received many emails from disappointed fans. Vera, in Ontario, Canada, said she had appreciated the access to microfilmed records because, she says:
“I find the indexes and transcriptions for information digitized is often incorrect. This is especially true on Ancestry.com.”
Vera is right that you shouldn’t fully rely on indexes to tell you whether your ancestors appear in records! Indexers make mistakes when they transcribe names. Or, perhaps the indexer is transcribing it as it appears, but the spelling is different, or it’s just really tough to decipher. Sometimes it takes an informed descendant’s eye—like yours!—to read an entry correctly or to contribute a spelling that’s more common.
If you don’t find ancestors in indexed records where you think they should be, browse the digitized records page-by-page for that time period and locale. (Click here to read a post on how to browse records at FamilySearch.org: a similar technique applies at Ancestry.com and other sites.)
You can also use advanced search techniques, like searching without the first or last name (or both), searching instead with other known characteristics such as the gender, age, place, and another relative’s name.
User-submitted corrections in Ancestry.com Indexes
When you DO find your ancestor in an Ancestry.com record that was incorrectly indexed, you might be able to fix it! The site allows users to submit changes to any indexes they have created themselves. You may even have seen (and benefited from) user-submitted corrections in your search results already. They look like this:
That listing you see means the record was originally indexed as R Care Harris, but someone has submitted a correction.
If you roll over the pencil icon, you’ll see a note that says, “Other possible names: Robert Carr Harris.” Click View Record to the left, and you’ll see the transcribed information:
If you click where the blue arrow shows, on [Robert Carr-Harris], you’ll see that an Ancestry user submitted this name correction:
If you have a correction of your own to make to an Ancestry indexed entry, you may click where the red arrow is pointed above, to where it says View/Add alternate information. You’ll see this screen:
From the drop-down menu, you can choose which fields to correct. In the case of the 1921 Canadian census, you can choose from several different fields to correct, including the name, parents’ birthplaces, occupations, and more. You can even select a field that was left blank if you want to add information here.
As shown below, you must select a reason for making the change. Then you can enter what you think it should say and click Submit Alternate:
Your corrected version is then added to the searchable index to help others find the same record.
Remember, you can only do this in indexes that Ancestry.com has created itself (not indexes supplied by third parties). But that applies to a lot of major indexes, including several U.S. and Canadian censuses, draft registrations, passenger lists, and more.
Ancestry Pro Tip
An Ancestry user who has corrected an entry for one of your ancestors may be a good person for you to know about. If you’re a subscriber, you can click on the user name to see the user profile and send a message. The user profile may show an AncestryDNA test, recently-added content, any of that person’s public trees, and a personal description.
The user who corrected the entry above defines herself as an advanced genealogist who has been researching since 1985, does research almost every day, and is currently active on Ancestry.com. If Robert Care (or Carr) Harris were my ancestor, I would definitely want to meet her!
Learn How to Fix an Ancestry Online Family Tree:
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This article was originally published on July 25, 2017 and updated on March 27, 2019.