It’s hard to envision big numbers. We can grasp figures like 60,000 only because we know that’s about how many fans it takes to fill a football stadium. Without such a familiar point of reference, though, we’re lost. That’s why the total of more than 894 million names in the databases of FamilySearch <www.familysearch.org> is almost incomprehensible. That’s more than three times the current US population.
Figures on the site’s popularity are even more staggering. Back on May 24, 1999, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled the free FamilySearch site, it was the biggest thing ever to happen to online genealogy. Users instantly overwhelmed the site, creating one of the Web’s biggest traffic jams. Since then, FamilySearch has collected more than 6 billion hits and gets visited by more than 145,000 people daily.
Since Family Tree Magazine first reviewed the site in our premier issue (January 2000), FamilySearch has added features and undergone a complete redesign. So it’s time to take a second look — and to share tips and tricks that can make you a “power user” of FamilySearch.
FamilySearch is your online gateway to the world’s largest genealogy resource: the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Some searchers strike potential gold on their first visit, downloading generation after generation of pedigree charts. Others surf off disappointed, typically because they don’t utilize the site’s amazing capabilities. Once you learn your way around FamilySearch, you can use it to ferret out elusive ancestors, collateral lines and even those difficult-to-locate female relatives. With 894 million names, after all, some of your relatives just have to be in there — you just have to know how to look.
The heart of Family-Search is its search system, which covers the site’s Big Three — Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index (IGI) and Pedigree Resource File — as well as the Social Security Death Index and Vital Records Index (currently containing records from Mexico). To conduct the broadest (and easiest) search, click on Search for Ancestors or the Search tab from the home page, then make sure All Resources is highlighted in the left column. Next, simply fill in your ancestor’s surname and click the search button. Although you can specify “use exact spelling,” we don’t recommend it — because a single surname can have several different spellings, you might exclude valid matches. And with the exact spelling option turned on, you can’t use any other search fields.
Using the All Resources method, the system will search every one of its databases as well as associated Web sites. Results will be displayed by database groups: for instance, the number of hits in IGI-North America or in the Pedigree Resource File. Click on results from each hit to see more detailed records.
If you find too many names, narrow your search by adding another piece of information, such as a parent or spouse’s name. Each time you specify additional search criteria, it will reduce the number of records found. With a surname of Smith, this filtering method is almost mandatory. If your search returns too few names, use only minimal input such as surname or surname plus country. And be aware of search-term combinations the system won’t allow: You can’t specify state, event or date if you leave the first name field blank; you can’t look only for a first name, either.
For many users, this simple search will lead directly to the sought-after ancestor. But, even if you hit paydirt, don’t stop here — there’s lots more to be found. Let’s dig deeper into each of the Big Three databases, what they include and how to find more than “just a name.”
Ancestral File: Trees for the taking
From the main Search for Ancestors page (at right), highlight Ancestral File in the left column. This database lists names and vital statistics of millions of individuals throughout the world that have been contributed by thousands of people, organized into family group sheets and pedigree charts. To aid you in collaborating with other researchers, each entry includes the name and address of the contributor. You can discover valuable leads for your own research with Ancestral File — but keep in mind that none of the data here has been verified.
Search Ancestral File by entering at least your ancestor’s last name. You can also specify first name, names of parents, name of spouse, event you are searching (birth, marriage, death), a year range, country or state (keeping in mind the limitations mentioned above). If you want to specify a state, you must first choose United States from the pull down menu located under Country. Remember, the fewer criteria specified, the more results will be returned.
So, for example, I entered the name of my third-great-grandfather, John Snow, and included the surname of his wife, Easley. The search results returned only one name, but the information it contained will keep me busy researching for a long time. When I clicked on John’s name, the next screen displayed his individual record, showing his parents and spouse; his birth, death and burial; as well as links to the name and address of the person who submitted this file.
In addition, the page contained links to John’s pedigree file and his family group sheet. It showed all of John’s and his wife’s vital statistics, as well as their children’s. But that’s not all: By following the pedigree links from John’s mother, I discovered her lineage back to 1517.
If you want to capture all of the information on the screen for your own files, from either the pedigree chart or the family group sheet, click on the button to download a GEDCOM file. You can then import this universal genealogy file format into your genealogy software program, such as Family Tree Maker. (But it’s a good idea to comb through it carefully first, since none of the data has been checked.)
Ancestral File tip: Find the kids — Did you know you can search for ancestors who are not in your direct line, such as your great grandfather’s siblings? From the Ancestral File search form, type in the father’s full name and at least the mother’s first name. The search will return a list of their children. Click on each name to go to each child’s individual record, which can contain vital statistics and marriage data. Each individual’s page also has links to a pedigree chart and family group sheet.
International Genealogical Index (IGI): Route to records
The International Genealogical Index contains 760 million names of deceased persons worldwide, as well as information on births, marriages and christenings. It includes people who lived from 1500 to 1885. Unlike the user-supplied Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File, some of the IGI’s information has been extracted from original records, mostly compiled from public domain sources. The rest has been submitted by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is an excellent index for finding ancestors you know little about; you won’t, however, find whole family trees here. To search just the IGI, click on the Search tab or Search for Ancestors, then select International Genealogical Index from the left column.
My IGI search was prompted by my Aunt Helen’s comment that her grandfather James had been married prior to his marriage to Aunt Helen’s grandmother. When I searched the IGI, 1 entered James’ first name and surname, as well as the region (you must select a region from the pull-down menu for an IGI only search). My initial search returned more than 200 hits — too many. I next added a filter to the region asking for information about James only from the state of Missouri.
Of the 13 results, one was for a James Hendrickson’s marriage in Cass County, Mo. Because I’d once found James on a Cass County census, I suspected this marriage could be the one I was searching for. My suspicions grew when I saw his wife’s name was Susan L. Strange; I already knew of several marriages between the Hendrickson and Strange families. An e-mail to a Hendrickson-Bird-Strange cousin helped me pin down Susan’s ancestry, and a high probability that this was the marriage Aunt Helen had heard about.
IGI tip: Behind the batch numbers — I further confirmed my suspicions about James and Susan using a little-known IGI search technique. At the bottom of the Web page showing James Hendrickson’s marriage to Susan Strange is a batch number. Using my cursor, I highlighted the number and copied it. Next, I returned to the search form, clicked my cursor in the Batch Number box (bottom left) and pasted the number I’d copied. I typed Hendrickson in the surname box and again chose North America as the region, but didn’t narrow it to Missouri. This time when I clicked on the search button, the system returned just three results: all Hendrickson marriage records from Cass County, Mo., that were batched together when entered into the LDS system. (Click on Source Call Number to see more on the source of this data.)
One of those results was for a marriage that took place the day following James and Susan’s ceremony, between Anna Hendrickson and William Groves. This entry caught my attention because on the 1870 census, James was living in the same household as William Groves (Graves), and next door to Susan Strange! The pieces began to come together.
If you’ve found an ancestor in the IGI, be sure to do a batch number search (not all IGI results will have a batch number, however). You never know what else you’ll find.
Pedigree Resource File: A million more monthly
The Pedigree Resource File contains name, birth, marriage and death information for millions of people, with more names being added at an astonishing rate of more than 1 million each month. Use the Pedigree Resource File to find lineage-linked records and obtain reference numbers that tell you where to find the complete record on CDs at your local Family History Centers. The Pedigree Resource File records are submitted by users, via the FamilySearch Web site, or are gathered from family histories and other sources — again, verify what you find here. Records appear in the file as originally submitted.
You can also buy the Pedigree Resource File CDs to use at home. These contain unedited notes and sources, with more than 1 million individuals on each disk. While supplies last, you can order disks 1-15 for $8 each or buy five CDs plus a Master Index for $20; after disc 15 they’re available only in sets of five for $20. All 25 CDs are also available in a batch for $63. You can order directly from FamilySearch by clicking on the Order/Download Products button, then selecting Software Products. You’ll need a Pentium-speed computer running Windows 95 or higher to use the CDs.
I used the Pedigree Resource File to find more about my third-great-grandmother, Polly Moore. I knew she married Aaron Hendrickson, but had no further information about the Moore family. Using the search form, I entered her first and last names, and the surname Hendrickson in the space for spouse. Two records were returned, both for “my” Polly. Her individual page gave me the number of the CD containing her records at the Family History Center, as well as her personal identification number (PIN). The page also contained links to more information on her husband and her parents.
Because I wanted to know more about my female lines, I followed links to Polly’s mother, Mary Barnett, and grandmother, Rebecca Holcomb. Along the way, I discovered that Polly’s grandfather, John Barnett, was an officer in the Continental Army and that Mary is mentioned in the will of her half-brother, John.
As I followed the family lines back through generations (just keep clicking on the links related to parents), I ended up in 1600 Scotland — what a wealth of clues to jump-start my research! The name and address of the person who submitted this information was located near the bottom of the Web page.
Pedigree Resource File tip: Submission search — Again, I found more information here than I’d dreamed existed. But I used another little-known search technique to find even more: Once you’ve located an ancestor using the Pedigree Resource File, click on the name to go to the individual record page. Near the bottom of the page you’ll find a section called Submission Search, with a long number written to the right. If you click on the number, you’ll be returned to the search form and the number will automatically be entered into the Submission Number blank. Next, type in your ancestor’s surname and click the search button. You’ll get a list of all of the people with your surname whose records were submitted by the same individual.
In the case of Polly Moore, the Submission Search returned a list of 12 Moores sent in by the same Indiana researcher who submitted Polly’s data. More than half the names were unfamiliar to me, and again opened up new avenues of research.
Getting a helping hand
If you find an ancestor’s marriage in the IGI, do you know what to do next? If you’ve just traced the family back to Indiana, do you know what records are available and how to access them? If not, click on Family Search’s Research Guidance and Research Helps, also found under the Search tab.
Research Guidance is designed to help you locate records about your ancestors. For example, if you discovered that your ancestors were married about 1650 in Ireland, click on Research Guidance, / for Ireland, then follow the links to Irish marriage records 1619-1863. This page will give a description of Ireland during the relevant time period and will offer a search strategy. In this case, the first suggestion is to look in church records. Follow the links to find a description of the types of church records available, and how to go about searching them. Once you’ve depleted your resources for church records, move to the next suggestion, marriage certificates, and on down the strategy list. The information in Research Guidance runs deep, and is filled with dozens of links. Don’t hurry through or you may miss the one piece of advice you really need.
The second research aid is called Research Helps, and offers detailed information on nearly any genealogy subject you can imagine. You can sort all of the help topics by place, title, subject and document type from the left column. Using Sorted by Place, you can easily find free online versions of the excellent Research Outlines sold at the Family History Centers. If you click on the Alabama Research Outline, for example, you’ll find guidance on researching your Alabama ancestors, whether it be census, church, court or military records. You’ll find addresses and Web sites for archives and libraries, and places to look for probate records and local histories. Sort by topic to discover helps such as “Organizing Your Genealogy Using Computers” or “Determining a Place of Origin in Germany.” The Sorted by Subject option will group topics into broad categories such as almanacs, military history and folklore.
Don’t miss Sorted by Document Type, which groups forms, letter-writing guides, maps, research outlines, foreign-language word lists and reference documents. The letter-writing guide is a wonderful tool if you need to compose a letter to a foreign country. For example, if you are writing a French Civil Registrar asking for your great-grandmother’s death certificate, you’re advised to write: “Je vous serais tres oblige(e) de bien vouloir m’envoyer, si possible, la copie integrate de I’acte de dices de mon arriere grand-mere.” The letter-writing guide is available for Czech and Slovak, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish.
That’s not all there is to FamilySearch, of course. The Share tab lets you collaborate with others researching your family lines. The Library tab tells you about the Family History Library, lets you search its extensive catalog and helps you find your nearest local Family History Center.