Enter at the side door: the Ancestry Card Catalog

Ancestry.com card catalog at the side doorLike many, my early days using Ancestry.com were all about chasing fluttering green leaves. I found sources because my ancestor’s name matched the index of a record collection. I wish I’d known much earlier the wealth of information available in the Ancestry Card Catalog, entered through the side door. It holds sources that are indexed — but not indexed. Bear with me, and I’ll explain. (Newest entry in the Wish I’d Known Series.)

Pay attention to the “wallpaper”: the Ancestry Card Catalog side door lies hidden there

Those Quick Links displayed down and to the right on your Ancestry.com dashboard quickly become wallpaper. Invisible. You’re eager to get to your tree, and this page disappears from sight before anything on it even registers. But there’s something worth investigating.

Ancestry Home with popup

The link to the Ancestry Card Catalog holds treasures you should not overlook. I say this after having overlooked this side door for two years.

Do you know what I found, when I finally decided to explore? Wills. My ancestors’ wills, packed with names. Oh, to have found them two years ago!

Sign up to receive notices of new content from the Golden Egg Genealogist.

Take the “Filter by Location” option

There are many things you can do in the Ancestry Card Catalog, but I found my treasure by choosing the Filter by Location option (left side), then digging in to a county of interest to me — Troup County, Georgia.

Card Catalog digging in

The items you find here could be traditional histories, genealogical society publications, published records, and scanned manuscript collections, among other things. Because these publications often have not been digitally indexed by Ancestry.com, they do not connect to the records in your family tree. They do not create hint leaves.

Don’t let the absence of the Ancestry.com index fool you into thinking you’ll have to find a needle in a haystack, however. Or, at least, let’s say needle searching will be rare.

Troup County Records

Sign up to receive notices of new content from the Golden Egg Genealogist.

The unindexed indexes in the  Ancestry Card Catalog

More often than not, a document that shows up in the Ancestry Card Catalog will have its own index. You’ll simply be consulting an index the old-fashioned way. If you access a digital copy of a traditional book, the index is at the back of the book.

If you’ve had the good fortune to come upon a probate court record book, like the one below, the index probably lies at the front of the records it supports. Probate clerks indexed the names, as they added each new court document to the book.

To aid in finding the records again, they gathered all last names beginning with the same letter into labeled alphabetical index pages (see the right margin). On the lettered pages, however, the records generally lie in the order in which the transactions happened — rarely in alphabetical order. Still, you can find your ancestors very quickly by scanning the correct letter page in the index.

Be aware, though, that one of these “books” might actually be a group of books in one document. In that case, the indexes might appear more than once through the document — each time you hit a new record book. And, the page number you’re looking for might be in there multiple times, so you’ll want to choose the one tied to the index you consulted. Get a sense of the document to get the most from it.


Sign up to receive notices of new content from the Golden Egg Genealogist.

You’ll find the side door liberating

I made a road trip to Georgia, spending hours standing up in front of probate court books, perched on a high slanted surface. I had no idea that some of the books I poured over — my back aching and fingers turning red with the old leather dust — were already digitized and easily available in the Ancestry Card Catalog. Had I known that, I’d have spent the time looking for what I didn’t have already.


I had broken my own rule: KNOW YOUR TOOLS. These days, call me a hippie, but I’ll be entering through the side door frequently.


GEG_Single Wrap

Sign up to receive notices of new content from the Golden Egg Genealogist.

Related posts:

Share this in your circles...

8 thoughts on “Enter at the side door: the Ancestry Card Catalog”

  1. Thanks for the above info about the Card Catalog. I have actually seen this on Ancestry, but dummy that I am thought “it couldn’t be anything worthwhile, if it was not digital”. Gotta hurry and try the old fashioned way.

  2. HOW DO YOU GET INTO THE CARD CATALOG ? I could never get into the Card Catolog, everything I entered it rejected, I had Ancestry for years .

    1. I’ve never had a problem getting in, Myrtle. I just clicked on it. It likely requires an active membership in Ancestry.com. Is your membership active? I can’t think of another reason it would keep you out.

      1. You have to put in info .on TITLE & KEYNOTE , that’s the problem I ran into . I have let my suscription go in July, which I had for 12 yrs or more. So now when people contact me about my DNA kinship ,I can’t respond to them or see their info. I see where people say they can’t get responses , that’s probably why.

        1. How odd! I don’t have to put anything in the Title or Keyword fields. It lets me burrow right in by way of locations. I’m sorry you had to let Ancestry go, Myrtle. I’d be going through withdrawals now. But I know there are alternatives I haven’t explored yet. Let us know how it’s going!

Leave a Reply to Myrtle Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *