Congrats! You’ve survived another treacherous Friday the 13th. While you’re dodging black cats and walking around ladders this weekend, curl up with one of the 13 amazing genealogy books on sale this weekend. One of them, the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org, will help you make your own genealogical luck. This comprehensive guide is full of FamilySearch.org tips that will take your research on the web’s largest free genealogy website to the next level. Here are 13 quick genealogy tips from the book that will help you get lucky while on FamilySearch.org.
1. Browse records.
Not all records collections are indexed correctly—though we wish they were! If you’re striking out when keyword-searching for an ancestor’s record, consider paging through images of the record instead. You never know what details may be incorrect or absent from a record’s index, and viewing an image of the original record can help clear up any inconsistencies. FamilySearch.org makes this easy by providing allowing you to click through individual pages, or by allowing you to jump to a specific page.
2. Set up notifications for family tree profiles.
As critics of FamilySearch.org will be quick to tell you, any user can edit your family tree. While a powerful tool for collaboration, this functionality opens the door for questionable details to be added to your hard-earned research. To counter this, FamilySearch.org also allows you to receive notifications when someone adds or edits details to an individual’s profile. Simply click the star next to Watch when viewing a profile, and the site will notify you when someone makes changes or adds records. With that, you can get in touch with other users and (hopefully) keep unsourced information from your tree.
3. Dive into the FamilySearch Wiki.
Yes, FamilySearch.org has billions of records and an extensive online family tree. But did you know the site also sponsors a free online encyclopedia? The FamilySearch Wiki boasts more than 80,000 free articles about thousands of research topics, from New York City vital records to German gazetteers. These can serve as great introductions to every genealogical topic under the sun. Several articles also contain links to relevant records collections on FamilySearch.org, making the wiki a useful shortcut.
4. Use wildcard characters in searches.
We’ve talked before about using wildcards on FamilySearch.org. But the tip is worth repeating. By using wildcard characters, you can broaden your search to include spelling variations—critical when researching records that may have been poorly indexed or mistranscribed. Specifically you can use a question mark (?) to represent one missing letter, and an asterisk (*) to represent zero or more characters. For example, a search Henders?n will return Henderson, Hendersyn, Hendersan and Hendersen.
5. Switch browsers.
Having trouble viewing records on FamilySearch.org? Try looking at them in a different browser. Some browsers play nicer with FamilySearch.org than others. Simply copy and paste the URL into a different browser window (such as Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer). You may have to sign in to your account again, but doing so will hopefully allow you to view the record.
6. Re-search records collections.
If you’re not satisfied with your results on FamilySearch.org, check back every so often. FamilySearch.org is continually updating its existing collections (and adding new ones!), so your search results may change over time. Simply go to FamilySearch’s list of collections, then sort by Date Updated.
7. Investigate individual collections.
Because FamilySearch.org has so many records, you can easily miss important results if you only search on the site’s main form. Instead, find individual collections that interest you and search them individually. From FamilySearch’s search page, you can click a map of the world to drill down to collections from a particular place. Alternatively, search for a collection by title or view a huge list of all FamilySearch.org’s groups.
8. Keep track of your searches.
If FamilySearch.org hasn’t recently updated a collection you’re researching, you’ll want to avoid repeating your searches. To make the most of your time, keep a log of your searches—what collection(s) you searched, what terms and filters you used, and what results you found (if any). This will keep you from doing the same work over again, plus help you better plan your search strategy.
9. Look for multiple kinds of records.
Censuses and vital records make up the bedrock of genealogy research, but they shouldn’t be the only resources you look for! FamilySearch.org’s database holds all kinds of genealogy records, from tax records to probates to passenger lists. From the main search form, you can filter your search by record type. Also remember to browse for records collections by location, so you can see what FamilySearch.org has in your area. Download our records checklist (plus other great forms) to help you keep track of what records you’ve find for each ancestor.
10. Scour premade genealogies.
In addition to records, FamilySearch.org also houses published ancestries, created and submitted by users. Genealogies include the Ancestral File (40 million profiles submitted by users before 2003) and the International Genealogical Index (curated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Simply visit the Genealogies landing page, then enter your search terms to get started. As the site warns, the accuracy of these trees varies, so be sure to back up any data you find here with sources from your own research.
11. Broaden your location search.
Records weren’t necessarily kept in the same town in which they were created. Study history, then identify where the records you’re looking for are currently held, as this might affect where FamilySearch.org categorizes them. For example, Austrian archives might hold records from some parts of modern Romania, as Austria-Hungary controlled western Romania until World War I. Check the FamilySearch Wiki to determine what locations might have the records you’re seeking.
12. Experiment with Match Exactly.
In your searches, you’ll have the option of selecting “Match All Terms Exactly.” A search with this option will return only results that match the text in all search boxes you filled in. This can be a useful option if you’re trying to narrow down your results, but this can also exclude relevant results that contain spelling errors or simply omit specific details.
13. Visit a FamilySearch Center.
FamilySearch.org plans to upload all of its records within the next few years. But in the meantime, you may need to access records that haven’t yet been digitized. Check with your local FamilySearch Center to see what resources they hold. These repositories, scattered throughout the world, often hold valuable records in book, microfilm and microfiche formats. Staff members at the facility will also be happy to help you look for researchers, and may know key information about local history and record sets.
Find more great FamilySearch.org tips in the Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org. This book, along with 12 other informative, detailed genealogy guides, are on sale this weekend in our store.