Build Your Family Tree On Ancestry (Start Here)

I created a free account on Ancestry.com in 2012 to help a young cousin build his family tree. Five years later, I signed up for a paid subscription which I have to this day.

This website has about thirty articles and tutorials that cover almost every aspect of building your family tree on Ancestry.

They are laid out here on this Start Page to take newcomers through creating a tree to using Ancestry’s powerful features to research family history.

Getting Started With Ancestry.com

You can start your family tree with a free guest account. That’s how I started using Ancestry.

Get started with a free guest account

The guest account has limits, but you can go a long way with your tree. Check out all our tips on using a free Ancestry account.

The biggest limit is access to Ancestry’s massive archives of records.

As you build out your tree with grandparents and prior generations, the Ancestry software automatically searches for matching records e.g. census, birth records, obituaries, etc.

This also works with the guest account. However, you won’t get to see the full record details.

Take out a free trial

The two-week free trial gives you full access to the record archives. This is ample time to verify that your ancestors are well-represented in the collections.

If your four grandparents are from non-Western countries, you may find that there are not enough historical documents on the website to be worth a subscription.

That’s what the trial is good for – you can figure out how useful a paid subscription will be.

These links take you to the appropriate trial for where you live (I get a small referral fee if you choose to subscribe).

United StatesTry a 14-day free trial with Ancestry®
CanadaTry this Ancestry® Free Trial (Canada)
United KingdomTry this Ancestry® Free Trial (UK)
AustraliaTry this Ancestry® Free Trial (Australia)

What’s the best subscription for you?

Of course, Ancestry would prefer if you take the super-powerful all-access membership at a premium price.

However, this may not be necessary for you. I use the level below the top premium!

Check out our article on which Ancestry subscription package is best for your circumstances.

Create Your First Ancestry Tree

Do you already have a family tree in software or on another website? Here are instructions on how to upload your tree to Ancestry.

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If you’re starting from scratch, then Ancestry provides a slick modern tree-builder. Follow our tutorial on how to create a new tree on the Ancestry website.

Whether you upload or create your tree, you may want to change the default name provided. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to rename your Ancestry tree.

Public Or Private Trees

I have one public tree on Ancestry.com and many private trees.

Why have private trees? I use them when my research is incomplete and I’m yet sure that I’ve got the connections right. I don’t want to send others astray!

It’s important to understand that Ancestry hides the details of living people in public trees. However, some customers will want more privacy than this.

Why go public?

I’m a big believer in having one public family tree on the website to encourage other researchers to reach out to you. I’ve gained new insight from Ancestry members who spotted their relatives in my tree.

I’ve laid out a lot of the advantages and disadvantages in our article on how to make your Ancestry tree public or private.

Am I public already?

If you’re starting out, you may not be sure of the status of your tree. Use this quick tutorial to check if your tree is public or private.

Entering People And Events In Your Tree

Quick question: which of these two people was born on the ninth of June? And which on the sixth of September?

two tree profiles with one date showing 06/09/1905 and the other date showing 09/06/1905

It may be the exact opposite of what you think. This is why Ancestry recommends that customers use a standard date format in your tree.

But what if you have approximate dates? Or you can only establish that someone died between this date and that date? We cover most possible scenarios in our article on how to format dates for Ancestry trees.

Names can be even more challenging.

  • What do you do about nicknames?
  • What if the surname is spelled differently on every census?
  • Maiden and married names?

We get into these and more questions in our guidelines to formatting names in your Ancestry tree.

You’ve found a birth record from 1782 that states your 3rd great aunt was born in Culpeper County in the Colony Of Virginia.

What location do you enter in the tree? The historical or the current name of the state?

We give you guidelines for this and many other scenarios in our article on entering locations in your Ancestry tree.

Photos In Your Tree

Our article on adding photos to an Ancestry tree will walk you through the different ways of storing and displaying pictures of your ancestors.

It also covers how to copy photos from other trees while giving due credit to the original uploader.

Some people may want a bit more protection for the pictures in their tree. Check out our article with instructions on how to add watermarks to family photographs.

Special Scenarios

Families are complicated! And it may seem that the Ancestry tree builder doesn’t recognize this.

It may seem like Ancestry expects your ancestors only married once, there were no step-families, and adoption didn’t exist.

But this isn’t the case. The features allow you to represent all types of relationships in your tree. Here are step-by-step tutorials for some specific scenarios:

The Power Of Ancestry Hints

As you build your tree, it won’t be long before you see little green leaves popping up. No, that isn’t a metaphor.

These are the results of complex algorithms searching through the archives for records that match the people you’ve entered.

tree profiles with highlighted green leaf hint and potential parents

Here are our articles on getting the most benefit from hints (and not being led astray):

The Power Of Searching On Ancestry

Ancestry has a massive and growing archive of record collections from across the world.

Your membership doesn’t just give access to browse these records. The website gives you a powerful set of search features to find what you need.

It’s worth taking a bit of time to learn how best to use that search power. We have in-depth articles on each of the different types of searches.

Start with how to search on Ancestry.com. This covers the most common type of searching.

Then you can review the more advanced features. Our article on Ancestry’s search filters will show you what you need.

We didn’t stop there! Here are twenty-four tips and tricks for searching Ancestry.com.

Want to look under the hood?

Ancestry’s search engine is a sophisticated piece of kit. But it’s not too difficult to understand when you see clear explanations.

Looking under the hood will give you a better understanding of why search results can also go very wrong! And you can tailor your queries to get better results.

Here’s our article on how Ancestry Search features work.

Downloading Or Sharing Your Tree

It’s always a good idea to keep a local backup of your tree.

Ancestry gives you a way to export your tree to a local file. You can follow the instructions in our guide to downloading your tree to a GEDCOM file.

This is good as a basic backup. However, there’s a drawback with this method. This backup doesn’t include any photos or documents you uploaded.

It also doesn’t include the images of Ancestry records you attached to your tree.

I like to use RootsMagic Essentials, which is free desktop software. It also grabs all the records, images, and documents associated with your tree and places them in a folder on your desktop.

Check out our tutorial on using RootsMagic to download your Ancestry tree.

Sharing your tree

Do you want to show off the fruits of your labor to your relatives?

Check out our article on sharing your Ancestry tree with others.

Other Features

This section is for tips I’ve learned that didn’t fit in the earlier sections!

Who Owns Ancestry? And What Does Ancestry Own?

Ancestry has a history of buying other genealogy services. Here’s our collection of articles on who owns who in the genealogy world.