Devon Noel Lee
How to Fix Mistakes in Index Records on Ancestry.com
Building our family tree is fun until we come across a record on Ancestry.com that is incorrect. I mean, the digital document is correct but whoever keyed in the information into a search form made a few mistakes.
How can we correct the errors in the Ancestry record search results? Better yet, how can we fix the mistakes so others can find our shared ancestor?
Why are the Ancestry databases incorrect?
To err is human. - Alexander Pope
In searchable databases, humans might have made the errors. For instance, the searchable index is wrong because the data was:
Incorrectly recorded information during the record creation phase.
Incorrectly keyed in details in the data entry phase of the index creation.
Misread during the OCR scanning of printed (and soon handwritten) documents.
Some Ancestry users have complained that the company should correct the errors. Ancestry better utilizes its resources by allowing users to self-heal the record collections.
I'd much rather have Ancestry focus on bringing more records online than correcting those already there. Wouldn't you?
What Can We Correct?
It would be awesome to correct mistakes enumerators made in census records or clerks made on marriage records. However, that's not possible and would be historically inaccurate.
However, we can fix the indexes to these documents by correcting mistyped information during the data entry phase for the databases on Ancestry.com. We can also add alternative spellings for correctly transcribed records that misspelled our ancestor's name.
With the new 2022 Ancestry.com website redesign, the process is relatively simple.
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Steps for Fixing Indexes on Ancestry.com
Whenever you find an error in the Ancestry records, navigate to the record content view and find the "Add or update information" link below the image thumbnail or "no image available" icon. (FYI: This was formerly called "View/Add alternate info.")
The image below shows where to find this link on the census record.
In the next pop-up screen, you can select the type of corrections you wish to make. Depending on the collection, you can provide alternate information for your ancestor's record entry. For the census above, the options include:
Other record types will allow you to add additional pieces of information.
To see how to edit the Ancestry.com records, watch this video.
Once you select the information type, you'll receive another screen to change corrections. For example, for a name change, you would choose a reason for why you're suggesting a variation.
The two most essential options on this list (or any for that matter) are:
Transcription error - when what is on the digital document does not match what is in the database. For instance, if the record says Browne and the index say Browns, then you could correct the record to say, Browne.
Incorrect in the image - If the record creator incorrectly wrote a name, suggest an alternative. For example, if the record and index both say Guysler, but it should be Geiszler, then you could offer a correction.
While Ancestry allows you to add Nick Name, Name Change, Variation, or Maiden Name to the record, it might be best to ignore this possibility. Instead, make a note of your ancestors' names on the family tree rather than cluttering the record database.
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Then proceed to make your changes.
Finally, explain why you are making the change. Although Ancestry considers this an optional task, I feel it is essential. Therefore, you should explain why you're making the change.
For transcription errors, explain why you think the indexed "s" at the end of Browns is not an "s" but rather an "e." Also, explain which words you used on the document for comparison to determine which letters should appear in the name.
For mistakes in the image, identify the alternative record you consulted that has the spelling you're suggesting.
Ancestry Adds Corrections to the Index
While you may wish for the transcription error or other mistakes to disappear from the records, that's not the case. Ancestry will add your suggestion as an alternative variation. Other users may search for and view the variation on the indexed page.
What I also love is that if a record has multiple persons, Ancestry will prompt you with the option to apply the change to one, none, or some of those persons. So be sure not to skip that page but apply the suggestions carefully.
But what if there's a different problem?
What if, while browsing records on Ancestry.com, you discover that your ancestor's name appears in the record, but there is no entry that you can edit in the index?
For years, I've struggled with this in city directories. The OCR scan of a printed page would skip a few names to an entire page section. In the past, I would send an email to Ancestry support and hope that someday the correction to the database would take place.
However, Ancestry now has an easier way to report a problem. Below the thumbnail, you'll see the "Report a problem" link.
Click that link, and this page will open with a drop-down menu. Select the highlighted option.
You can then complete an expanded form after clicking the continue button after making the above selection.
Select the "Other (please comment)" option in the Technical concern drop-down.
Ancestry will capture the URL you were visiting. You will be asked to include your email and explain what is missing. Be specific to help programmers quickly resolve the problem during their periodic record maintenance process.
Hopefully, Ancestry will send you an email to notify you when this is complete. Otherwise, check back in a year or so to check for the correction.