Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ancestry: Beware of Misleading Database Titles

This afternoon I had a few minutes to research, so headed to Ancestry. As I always do when I haven't been there for a few days, I checked out the "New Records" section to see if there is anything I need to look at. Today an entry for "Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1825-1960" caught my eye. My Nickerson and Robinson lines came from Nova Scotia to Maine in the early 1800's, so I decided to do a quick search for them. My 3rd-great-grandmother, Elvira Nickerson, was born in Maine in 1820, so I knew I wouldn't find her or her parents in the database, but I wanted to see if I could find any Nickerson or Robinson relatives. I put in search parameters of last name Nickerson, born in 1820 +/- 10 years (1810-1830 time span). I also ran the same search with the birth years of 1800 and 1780, which should covered all Nickerson's born between 1770-1830 crossing the U.S./Canadian border. Here's a screen shot of one of the searches:

To my surprise, not a single record was found:

At this point, I decided to look at what crossing points and year spans were included in the database.1 (You can do this by clicking on the "Learn more about this database link" on the left side of the page.) Naturally, the vast majority of the records for Maine took place in the 20th Century, making it unlikely that I'm going to find my earlier Nickerson/Robinson clan in these records. BUT...a closer examination of the description shows that the earliest crossing in this record set, from any entry point, is from 1877, even though the database's title says 1825! If this recordset had an accurate title (e.g 1877-1960), I would not have spent my precious research time on a fruitless effort. Thanks, Ancestry.

So what did I learn from this? 

  1. If I don't find what I expect to find in a search, check the database's description to see what was actually included in the record set and/or index. It may be that the records I'm looking for DO exist, just not where I'm looking for them.
  2. Better yet, especially on days that I have just 10-15 minutes to do a quick search, maybe I should check the database description first, instead of relying on titles, to let me know if I might find what I'm looking for.


1. "U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1825-1960",  database, ( : accessed January 22, 2017), database description; citing National Archives and Records Administration,  Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Record Group 85.


  1. Interesting! I wonder why it was named so poorly. And how many other data bases have misleading titles. Great reminder to check the descriptions!

  2. This is something shareworthy. I appreciate your research. yeah misleading database titles are so irritating. thanks for sharing the reference links. Will check them in a moment.