A free website from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church), FamilySearch has a large, growing collection of records, books, photos and family trees. Since going online in 1999, the site has expanded to encompass more than 2,000 historical record collections from around the world, more than 5.5 billion searchable names in old records, and more than 300,000 digitized books.
You can search many of these records by name and other details, thanks to FamilySearch’s volunteer indexing program; but some collections are still awaiting indexing and must be browsed. All the genealogical bounty is accessible from tabs at the top of FamilySearch.org.
Use these strategies for success in finding your ancestors on FamilySearch.org:
Search for records.
Under the Search tab, click Records to bring up a search form for a person in indexed records. You can enter the first and last names and the date range and place for one or more life events, such as birth, marriage, death, residence (useful when looking for census records), death or “any,” which could be, for example, an immigration or military enlistment year. Narrow your search with names of the person’s parents, spouse or another person who might appear with him in records. You also can restrict your results to those from a certain country or of a certain type (such as census or military records).
On the search results page, look to the left for fields where you can adjust your search terms. Below that, you can use filters to narrow your search by collection (which lets you limit results to one or more databases), a birthplace in the record, a birth year in the record, and more.
A camera icon in the far right column for a match indicates a digital image you can download to your computer and/or add to your tree; no camera icon means it’s an index-only record. In a few collections, due to the wishes of record custodians, you must register with FamilySearch to access record images or use the website at a FamilySearch Center (also called a Family History Center; find one near by searching here online). Some collections, such as the 1901 census of England and Wales, link to a record image on a subscription site. You can view these with a subscription or by visiting a FamilySearch Center.
Browse record collections.
Searching a specific record collection that covers a place and time your family lived can help you focus on the most relevant matches. On FamilySearch, this technique also lets you access images of records that aren’t yet part of the site’s searchable indexes. Under the Search tab, click Records, then Browse All Published Collections to see a list of all records, both indexed and unindexed, arranged by place. If “Browse Images” appears in the Records column, none of the collection is indexed by name. If that column gives a record count, the collection is at least partially indexed. On the left, you can filter the list by name (enter any word in the collection title), place, date, record type and image availability. Click a title to search or browse that collection.
Find relatives in the Family Tree.
The FamilySearch Family Tree has a lofty goal to create a family tree that includes all people. Other websites have large collections of trees that often duplicate each other, errors and all. In an effort to increase accuracy and decrease duplication, Family-Search has designed its tree with one profile per ancestral person, that anyone can edit. Unlike most of FamilySearch, you must register to use the Family Tree, but it’s still free.
To search the tree, look under the Family Tree tab and click Find. You can enter a name; gender; dates of birth, christening, marriage, death and/or burial; and family members’ names.
Adding your relatives to the tree can help you find their records, as FamilySearch automatically searches its records for matches to people in the tree. Click the Family Tree tab to start your tree and either manually enter the information, or use “FamilySearch-approved” genealogy software that can reconcile data between the family file on your computer and Family Tree. Those programs include Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic and MacFamilyTree. To avoid duplicating people already in the tree, FamilySearch looks for a profile for each person you’re adding.
Click on an icon beside a name in landscape or portrait tree view for research help. Record hints are blue, research suggestions are purple, and data problems are red. Record hints and research suggestions also appear under the Details tab in Person view. You can review and verify possible matches, and attach the records to personal profiles.
Now you can search four large genealogy collections—FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, Findmypast and MyHeritage—from Person view. You still should try searching on other combinations of terms, such as a woman’s married name, and searching individual record collections.
Find family photos.
Click the Memories tab to see at a glance all the photos, stories, documents, audio and albums you or someone else has submitted and linked to your relatives. To search the Family Tree’s photos, stories and documents for any term (such as a name, place or other topic), look under the Memories tab and select Find.
Search user-submitted genealogies.
Under Search>Genealogies, you can search the old Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File, two collections of family trees that researchers submitted over many years. Pedigree Resource File includes notes and sources, but Ancestral File doesn’t. Neither collection shows the submitters’ names. It’s worth mining these family trees for clues, but always try to verify the information with original sources.
A Genealogies search now covers several other collections, too: Community Trees were an effort to cover the genealogy of entire towns or communities. Oral Genealogies were obtained with personal interviews. The International Genealogical Index (IGI) has information on 430 million ancestors contributed by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Find microfilmed records.
It’ll take years to digitize and index the massive holdings of microfilmed records at FamilySearch’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City. If you can’t visit the library, you can access the microfilm that has been indexed online from the comfort of you own home.
Under Search>Catalog, run a Places search to find books and microfilmed records about a place. Search on all the towns, cities, counties, states and countries where your ancestors lived. Run a Surnames search to find family histories. Note that this search covers only surnames mentioned most often in a book, not every name. You can search on multiple terms, such as a surname and a place, but you’ll probably have better luck by entering these terms in the Keywords box.
Three icons are used in the Format column for microfilms in the catalog:
- A magnifying glass icon appears if the film is indexed and searchable by name. Click it to search for a name.
- A camera icon indicates that the film has been digitized. Click it to browse the images online.
- A film roll icon lets you you know that the film has not yet been digitized and can only be viewed at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Printed books don’t circulate to Family-Search Centers; click the link to “View this catalog record in WorldCat” to find the book in a library near you.
Search digitized books.
Under the Search tab, click Books to search almost 500,000 digitized publications, including family and county histories, transcribed records and more. Using the Advanced Search, try searching on a name using the “Any is (exact)” option. To view a match, you must download the entire book (a PDF file), then use your PDF reader to search for the term in the book. Some digitized books can be viewed only in the Family History Library or a FamilySearch Center.
Expert Tips for Using FamilySearch
Explore all the search options.
The site’s record search doesn’t cover all its genealogical information. Under the Family Tree menu, choose Find to search the Family Tree. To search user-contributed genealogies, use Search>Genealogies. With Memories>Find, you might find photos and stories not attached to the Family Tree.
Search with wildcards.
The FamilySearch records search lets you use the ? wildcard in a surname to represent one letter, and the * wildcard to represent multiple letters.
Look for indexes in imaged volumes.
Browsing an unindexed collection? Digitized volumes may contain handwritten or typed name indexes. Look for a volume with “index” in the title, and check the beginning and end of individual volumes.
Start searching with a place.
To focus your search on record collections related to a place, look under the Search tab, click Records and select a region on the world map. If you click on the United States and click New York in the popup menu, a New York research page comes up, where you can search indexed New York records. Scroll down to see collections that haven’t been indexed yet; click a title to browse.
Search from a Family Tree profile.
FamilySearch can help you find records faster by filling in the search form with details on someone in the Family Tree. In the person’s Details view, look under the Search Records section of the right column and select FamilySearch, Ancestry, Findmypast or MyHeritage. You can attach a matching record from FamilySearch to everyone it pertains to in the tree. Now MyHeritage can do that, too. Look for the link at the bottom of the record to “Attach source to FamilySearch.”
Get research advice.
The FamilySearch Wiki, which you can access under the Search tab, offers research advice, such as how to access records for a particular state or country or how to find military records.
See recently updated collections.
FamilySearch’s fast digitizing pace means you should check regularly for new records from the places your family lived. Under the Search tab, click Records, then click Browse All Published Collections to see a list of all records. Click the Last Updated column heading to move recently updated collections to the top.
Get more help.
To find articles and videos about using FamilySearch, Click on Get Help, then Help Center and search on a topic. For example, search for Civil War, and the matches include an article on South Carolina Civil War service records of Confederate soldiers, videos on researching Civil War records and more.
Volunteer to index records.
If you have a few minutes, you can index digitized records on your home computer and make them searchable. Click on Indexing>Overview to get started with FamilySearch Indexing.
To learn more about FamilySearch and get expert guidance from Rick Crume, enroll in our Become a FamilySearch.org Power User course which runs from June 22nd – July 19th 2020.