8 Quick Genealogy Website Search Strategies

By Diane Haddad

It was exciting to have the researchers behind TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” (whose summer 2015 season debuted on Sunday!) share tips for uncovering dramatic, meaningful, TV-worthy family stories in Family Tree Magazine‘s special Discover Your Roots issue.

The Summer 2015 Discover Your Roots issue, now available on newsstands and at Family Tree Shop, is a helpful guide for beginning genealogists and anyone who wants a refresher on family history research basics.

I included several of the experts’ recommended sources for great ancestral stories in this post (where I shared a few of my own family stories I’ve found in those sources).

The “WDYTYA?” pros also shared these quick, beginner-friendly tips for using genealogy websites:

1. Start with a general search on your ancestor’s name. Run additional searches as needed using initials, maiden name, nicknames and spelling variations.

2. Pay the most attention to top matches. Most genealogy websites prioritize your results to put the best matches at the top.

3. Use search filters. These let you sort matches by place, time period, record type and more. Remove filters if you get too few matches.

4. Note potential matches. You may find records that look mostly right but have important discrepancies. Note possible matches for further evaluation later.

5. Broaden name searches. When you don’t know someone’s full name, enter part of his name plus the name of a parent or spouse. This is a great way to find women’s maiden or married names or to find a couple’s children.

6. Look for less-common names. Ancestors with common surnames sometimes had family members with less-common names. Try searching for those names instead—and then look for your ancestor in their records.

7. Explore specific record sets. Some sites have database catalogs or lists. Search or browse within specific databases, such as collections of death or marriage records from an ancestral county.

8. Find search advice. Look for search tips on sites you search, such as whether a site lets you search with wildcards to catch similarly spelled names (such as cars* to find Carsidy, Carseldine and Carsley).