I was recently looking for Van Wert County, Ohio records. On Linkependium in the Estate Records category there was a link to Ancestry.com’s “Ohio Wills and Probate Records, 1786-1998.” I reasoned Linkpendium wouldn’t have sent me to Ancestry if it didn’t have any records for Van Wert. But when I searched for some surnames that I knew had probates in Van Wert County, those didn’t show up in Ancestry’s list of results.
Finally I just searched with NO surname and "Van Wert County and I got 2509 results! And I’m afraid none of the results were terribly useful. You can see below that on page 1 of results, not one of them has a name and only 2 even have dates:
It’s not until page 25 of the results that any additional entries with dates show up, and still they don't show names. In fact in the entire list of results, all 51 pages, no names are listed. None.
I clicked on a random item on Page 37 of the results, an 11 Jun 1888 probate. The abstract entry gives me the date and place but no name. When I click on the image, I can see quite clearly a probate record for Anthony McQueen, deceased.
If you try to use the search boxes to find Anthony McQueen, you will come up empty, not because there is no record, but because Ancestry has not indexed this particular set of records by name for this place and time. On the search page for “Ohio Wills and Probate Records, 1786-1998” Ancestry describes the collection, saying:
"The records come from a collection of microfilm that took years to compile. They have been brought together from multiple courthouses over time to give you a single source to search. Some localities and time periods may not be included because they were not available to be acquired as part of this collection, or the records may have been lost or destroyed before the effort to collect them all began… For details on which counties and records are included in this collection, please explore the browse menu.”
If you “Browse,” you see Van Wert is one of the counties with records. Ancestry’s search page has boxes, but because they have not indexed the Van Wert records by name, the search boxes are worthless. That doesn’t mean the records aren’t there. It only means the records are not searchable, they are only browsable. But Ancestry doesn’t give you any clues that this is the case. To me, the mere presences of the search boxes on the screen below should indicate these records are searchable.
The takeaway here… On any search on Ancestry, if you don’t get a hit, don’t immediately walk away. First, search for a very common name, something like Smith or Brown, which ought to be found at least once in the records. If you still come up with no result, try searching just by place with no name in the search boxes. If you come up with no result, this probably means Ancestry doesn’t have records of that type for that location. But if you get some "hits" on you no-name search, Ancestry probably has some records and you'll have to figure out how to browse through them. Browsing isn't always the speediest process. But by being willing to try a No-Name search you might discover that there are records.
One more thing about these records -- to me they look a lot like the digitized films from FamilySearch. You may have an easier time going directly to FamilySearch and browsing there. I find the interface on FamilySearch provides a clearer way to recognize which records are Browse-only and an easier method to see all the browsable items in the particular collection.
For another post about browsing on FamilySearch see "Understanding Indexes in County Records - Graves Tabular Initial Index" which talks about just one of the many kinds of indexes that make browsing easier.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.