Become a Family Search Wizard

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

It’s hard to envision big numbers. We can grasp figures such as 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 957 million names in the databases of Family-Search <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 (LDS) 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 10 billion hits and is visited more than 130,000 times daily.

FamilySearch is your online gateway to the world’s largest genealogy resource: the Family History Library (FHL) 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 957 million names, after all, some of your relatives are bound to be in there — you just have to know how to look.

Finding Granddad

The heart of FamilySearch is its search system, featuring these databases: Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index (IGI), Pedigree Resource File, Census Records (1880 US, 1881 British Isles and 1881 Canadian), US Social Security Death Index and Vital Records Indexes (currently containing records from Mexico and Scandinavia).

To conduct the broadest (and easiest) search, click on the Search tab from the home page, and then make sure All Resources is highlighted in the left column of the Search for Ancestors page. 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 different spellings, you might exclude valid matches. And with the exact-spelling option turned on, you can only use the first-and last-name 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 each search result 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 common surname such as 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 a state, event or date if you leave the first-name field blank; you can’t look for just a first name, either.

For many users, this simple search will lead directly to the sought-after ancestor. But even if you hit pay dirt, don’t stop here — there’s a lot more to be found. Let’s dig deeper into four of the best-known 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, highlight Ancestral File in the left column. This database lists names and vital statistics of millions of individuals throughout the world. Genealogists like you have contributed this data, which is 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. Using Ancestral File, you can discover valuable leads for your own research — 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 and spouse, event you are searching (birth, marriage, death), a year range, country or state (keeping in mind the limitations mentioned earlier). 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.

For example, I entered the name of my third-great-grandfather John Snow and included his wife’s surname, 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 a 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 verified.)

? Ancestral File tip: Find the kids — Did you know you can search for relatives 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 the dates and places of births, christenings, marriages, deaths and other events for a billion people who lived between the early 1500s and early 1900s. Unlike the user-supplied Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File, much of the IGI’s information has been extracted from vital and church records from around the world. The rest has been submitted by members of the LDS church. This is an excellent index for finding ancestors you know little about. And because there are so many events indexed, the IGI also can help link generations. This means that in some cases you can download a pedigree chart or family group sheet from an individual’s page. To search just the IGI, click on the Search tab, and then select International Genealogical Index from the left column.

I searched the IGI after my aunt Helen commented that her grandfather James Hendrickson had been married prior to his marriage to Aunt Helen’s grandmother. When I searched the IGI, I entered James’ first and last names, as well as the region where he lived (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. Next, I added a filter to the region, so I’d find information only about James Hendrickson 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: Go 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 wedding 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 fit 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: Millions more ancestors

The Pedigree Resource File contains name, birth, marriage and death information for more than 50 million people. Use this database to find lineage-linked records and obtain reference numbers that tell you where to find the complete record on CD-ROM at your local Family History Center (FHC), a branch of the FHL (to find the FHC closest to you, visit <>). The Pedigree Resource File records are submitted by genealogists 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 Pedigree Resource File CDs to use at home. These contain unedited notes and sources, with more than 1 million individuals on each disc. Discs one through 15 cost $8 each, or buy a set of five plus the master index for $20; after disc 15, they’re available only in sets of five for $20, not individually. 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 learn 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, 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! The name and address of the person who submitted this information was located near the bottom of the Web page.

? Pedigree Resource File tip: Try a 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 return to the search form, and the number automatically will 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 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 had submitted Polly’s data. More than half the names were new to me, and again opened up new avenues of research.

Census Records: Keeping count

The 1880 US census, which contains 50 million individuals, is one of the few databases on this site that can be searched using only a first name — good news for those of us with a female ancestor who has an unusual first name, but an unknown maiden name. Of course, you can also search by last name only, or the head of household’s first name, last name or both. If your initial search returns too many hits, refine it by adding a birth year, race, birthplace or birth-year range.

The various search parameters make it easy to construct clever searches. For example, what if a female ancestor was widowed, and you suspected she was living with an in-law or child, but didn’t know exactly with whom or where? You have a chance of finding her by entering her first name and the last name of the suspected head of household. If you get too many hits, add the census state and county.

Once you locate your ancestor in the 1880 census, you can view her individual record, or click on Household to display everyone living in that dwelling. Results also will show age, race, marital status, gender, relationship to head of household, birthplace, occupation and parents’ birthplaces. Want to know about the neighbors? From the Household view, click Previous Household or Next Household.

Now that you’ve located your ancestor, would you like to see the actual census image? You can, thanks to a recent agreement between the LDS church and (’s parent company). Just click the View Original Image button at the bottom of your search page, and you’ll link directly to the image at < . You can view the images for free if you’re an Ancestry subscriber, LDS church member or visitor of the Family History Library or its branch Family History Centers (images are free on site). Otherwise, you can pay $9.95 for 30-day access to the images.

Did your ancestors live in Canada, England, Wales, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man in 1881? Use the pull-down menu on the Census search page to look through the 1881 British or Canadian census. Combined, the two censuses contain close to 30 million individuals.

Getting guidance

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 FamilySearch’s Research Guidance and Research Helps, also found under the Search tab.

Research Guidance can help you determine what records exist for specific localities and where to find them. For example, if you discovered that your ancestors were married about 1650 in Ireland, click on Research Guidance, I 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 Research Helps, which offers detailed information on nearly any genealogy subject you can imagine. From the left column on the main Research Helps page, you can sort all the help topics by place, title, subject or document type. Click Sorted by Place, and 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 you want to use 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 title to discover helps such as “Organizing Your Genealogy Using Computers” or “Determining a Place of Origin in Germany.” Sorting by subject will group topics into broad categories such as almanacs, law and legislation, 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’re writing a French civil registrar to request a copy of your great-grandmother’s death certificate, the guide advises you to write: “Jevous serais très obligé(e) de bien vouloir m’envoyer, si possible, la copie intégrale de l’acte de décès de mon arrière grand-mère.” Letter-writing guides are 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.

Used hand in hand with your other research techniques, FamilySearch can help you break down brick walls and uncover forgotten family lines. Sure, those 957 million names can be overwhelming — but if there’s strength in numbers, FamilySearch is as powerful a research assistant as you’ll find online.

Sharing the Wealth

Whether you want to share resources or research with other genealogists, FamilySearch has made it easy. Click on Share from the home page to join electronic mailing lists or submit your own research. First, you’ll need to register and pick a user name and password (it’s free).

Collaboration e-mail lists are categorized by surname, specific ancestor, place or category. For example, if you’re searching the surname Crilley, check to see if a Crilley list has been started. If not, start one yourself.

If you’d like to share your research with others on the FamilySearch site, you can do so by clicking on Share, then on Share My Genealogy. Here, you’ll find complete instructions for uploading your GEDCOM files to the system. The information you furnish will then be available to the world via the Pedigree Resource File.

Getting Inside the Library

Chances are the five-story, 142,000-square-foot Family History Library holds clues to your family’s past. But you don’t have to travel to Salt Lake City to tap the FHL’s vast holdings. Just search the library’s online catalog, and then have records sent to your local Family History Center (FHC).

From the FamilySearch home page, click on Library, then Family History Library Catalog. Here, you can search (by place, surname, title, keyword, author or subject) the FHL’s collection of records in book, periodical, microfilm, microfiche and electronic formats. The FHL can send copies of most microfilm and microfiche records to your FHC. There, you can use a film copier to duplicate your ancestors’ records. Note that you’ll pay $3 to $4 to rent each microfilm reel, and the FHC can keep it for 30 days (with the option for renewal). To learn more about the FHL, consult Your Guide to the Family History Library by Paula Stuart Warren and James W. Warren.

From the January 2004 Family Tree Magazine.