Ancestry’s Keyword Search…An Occasional Trick

Ancestry’s “California, Death Index, 1940-1997” is one of those databases that contains data elements that are not indicated in the search screen. The query box for this database includes:

  • First, middle, and last names
  • Date and place of birth (location based on Ancestry’s “geographic drop down list”)
  • Date and place of death
    (location based on Ancestry’s “geographic drop down list”)
  • Last name of father and mother
  • and keyword search

The problem is that like many of Ancestry’s databases, one does not know what other elements could be used as search terms until one sees the results of a search. The Social Security number of the deceased is one of the data elements that are a part of database entry. It’s worth remembering that not everyone may have had a Social Security number.

However, one can search for an entry in this database if the Social Security number is known. This could be helpful if the the last name is unknown or it is believed that the name is so difficult to read that the entry is impossible to find using direct search methods. It does require that the Social Security number be on the death certificate, that it be recorded correctly, and that it be transcribed correctly.

Have you looked to see what you could possibly use for a keyword search at a database at Ancestry? Find a database entry (searching for Smith is a good way to guarantee you get one) and look at the items included. Are there items included that can’t be searched on? Then try a keyword search. Experiment first to make certain the keyword search is actually working in the way you think it should–trying to find an entry you know is in the database using only the keyword is a great way to do this.

This approach is how I found out there were two death certificates for individuals with the same social security number in this California database. And the two entries have the same dates of birth and death–just different names.

What you find might not be quite as unusual as what I did. But you still may make a discovery.


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