Guest blogger and Ancestry Canada Advisory Board Member: Tammy Tipler-Priolo, BASc, PLCGS

Ancestry search interface.

When you first log on to Ancestry, you will be presented with a user-friendly search platform.  The platform lets you enter any information you may know about your ancestor to narrow down the records. You can search by first, middle and last name; a place they might have lived; birth year; or any events such as birth, marriage or death. You can also enter family members you know, as well as include race and gender of an ancestor.

One option probably not used as much is the ‘Keyword’ field.  This can be more useful then you think, especially for hard-to-find ancestors.  Some useful keywords are:

  • Occupations, such as housewife, student or scholar
  • Language spoken
  • Educational abilities, such as reading or writing
  • Religions, such as agnostic or atheist

These unique descriptions in the keyword search can help you narrow down which records are related to your ancestors. The interesting thing about this keyword search is the broad base in which it will search for such unique descriptions.  Some examples of finds from a keyword search can be seen below:


  1. Keyword: ‘destitute
  2. Keyword: ‘Agnostic’, under the religion column.
  3. Keyword: ‘read’, as in the ability to read. Where keywords can get tricky are with double meanings to the same word. While using the keyword ‘read’ I also found records that connected to individuals’ names, for example.
  4. Keyword: ‘blind’. I used the word ‘blind’ and found this 1851 Canadian Federal Census for a fellow called Blind Joseph.  When I scanned across the page, I found that he was listed as blind, in addition to it being part of his name.
  5. Keyword: ‘partner’. In this case, you could be looking at a surname, personal relationship or occupational relationship.  When the head of household is the same gender as a member of the household who identifies as partner to head of household the next thing to do is look at their occupations.  If both occupations seem to be similar in nature it is most likely they are partners in the same business.  As in this example:


All of the keywords mentioned above can be found at Ancestry scattered throughout various records groups – many keywords are in the census records especially.  The keyword search field on Ancestry is a very important tool that can help gather a specific word from all possible documents, regardless of what context it has in relationship to ancestors we are seeking.  Whether the word defines a person’s name, relationship, occupation, religion, etc., this function can help narrow down a search.  Upon discovery, it is up to the researcher to interpret if a keyword means one thing or another, as well as backing up that conclusion with as much evidence as possible.  Try the keyword search feature with Ancestry – it could make a difference in the growth of your family tree.

Happy hunting!


Tammy Tipler-Priolo

In 1992, Tammy developed an interest in her family history – which includes British, French-Canadian, Native Canadian, Belgian, German and Swiss roots. She is a graduate from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies and opened her business, The Ancestor Investigator in 2000. Tammy is a member of the Association for Professional Genealogists (APG) and has been a member of The Genealogical Speakers Guild since 2007. She has lectured and given workshops nationally and internationally and has had over a thousand articles published across North America. She has also created four genealogical games!

Tammy lives in Alliston, Ontario with her husband and daughter and outside of genealogy, her hobbies include gardening, multi-media painting, creative writing, traveling and spending time with family and friends.


Comments are closed.