I have been building my family trees on Ancestry.com since 2008. When I first started searching for records on their website, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to grow my tree. The little leaves (or hints) helped by pointing me in the right direction.

For each of my ancestors, I like to complete a profile to its fullest (i.e. from birth to death). However, there are times when I “lose the trail” of one of them. There are many reasons this can happen, including marriage (for women), moving to a different area, or immigrating to another country.

Lack of records is another reason you may lose your ancestor. Because of age and erosion, or man’s decision to “clean out the closet”, many documents are no longer in existence. And, remember, this is way before the invention of the internet and cloud storage.

One issue that occurs quite often is the incorrect transcription of records. Ancestry.com enlists the help of volunteers to transcribe records. The volunteers are members of Ancestry and can receive a discount on their membership fees, based on how many they transcribe.

The problem arises because Ancestry does not verify the correctness of every entry. To fix the problem, Ancestry.com offers members the ability to make corrections to individual entries in their index files.

I have found way too many of these errors to count anymore. However, I cannot place all the blame on the transcriptionists or the Ancestry, either. Documents in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s were not produced on typewriters. Records were handwritten, and based on who did the writing, many are very hard to decipher.

Here is a perfect example of an Ancestry volunteer incorrectly transcribing data on an individual’s record. The first is an excerpt of the 1861 England census showing Charles Aldous and his family. You will notice his age is listed as 39 years old. At first, I could not find him. So I modified the search criteria by increasing the “age” range by +/- 10. After scrolling through a few entries, I found him.

The second example is a snippet showing that the age had been typed as 34 years old instead of 39. I corrected the age in the index file. Making this correction will help other members find this record more easily because the search will show the correct age.

Another example is on Charles’ wife, Ann. I was having trouble finding her death record and had to modify my search. I removed the surname from the search field and checked the “exact” button so that only Hoxne, Suffolk, England, showed as the death location in the search results. Hoxne is the registration district for Bedingfield.  After a few minutes, I found her record. The Ancestry volunteer had incorrectly transcribed her surname as Aldoun instead of Aldous. I corrected the surname in the index file.


If you are interested in transcribing records and want to find out more information:

  • Sign in to your Ancestry account and click on the Help icon.
  • In the drop-down menu, click on Support Center.
  • Then click on Search and Records.
  • There you will find the World Archives Project.

You will find all the FAQs and training tools needed to transcribe records.

Ancestry explains the benefits of volunteering:

Active contributors to the World Archives Project receive free access to the original images in the project’s databases, and current subscribers to Ancestry are eligible for a discount (10% for US Discovery and 15% for World Explorer) on annual subscription renewals. Active contributors are defined as people who have indexed, keyed, and/or reviewed 900+ records in the last 90 days.

However, as of February 6, 2018, the World Archive Project is offline. The WAP blog explains that they are working on a new “keying tool” and that it should be back online soon. If you are interested in the WAP, check back on their blog to see when it will be coming back online.

And, to get back to the subject of incorrectly transcribing records:

It did not take me long to find Charles on the 1861 England Census, but please be aware that errors can occur. The transcriptionist tries to decipher documents that are handwritten, and sometimes not very legible.

If I am 90% sure that a family is still living in the same town or parish, I will look at each page of the census records, individually, in order to find them. You would be surprised at how many times I have found an ancestor using this method.

In the following examples, I am searching the 1881 England Census in the parish of Bedingfield, Suffolk, England.

On the right side of your search screen, you will see the entries for “Learn More About this Database” and “Search Individual Records.”

Under “Search Individual Records”, click on the county (Suffolk) and the parish (Bedingfield). Once you have entered this information, a list of Enumeration Districts will appear directly below. In the case of Bedingfield, there is only District 5.

Click on District 5, and it will bring up the first page of the census record.

You can zoom in and out on the page, then click on the right arrow to go to the next page.

I found Charles and family on page 14 on this census.

I hope I have given you some insight on how to look for a “lost” ancestor. Sometimes they can be right in front of you the whole time.

Are you stuck on finding someone in your family tree? If so, leave your message in the Comments Section of this page. I will try my best to find them for you! Please include your email address so that I can contact you with my results.