Genealogy Quick Guide to the Free FamilySearch Website

Genealogy Quick Guide to the Free FamilySearch Website

Learn the best tips and techniques for finding your ancestors on the free genealogy website FamilySearch.org. This article contains a Genealogy How-To Video demonstrating how to search specific databases on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. 

 Membership Options

 Level Benefits  Cost
 Public Member View records, including many restricted ones; create, view and edit family trees  free
 LDS Member  The above, plus at-home access to records otherwise restricted for viewing in FamilySearch Centers  free
 

Overview

A free website by a nonprofit arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon church), FamilySearch.org has a large, growing collection of records, books, photos and family trees. These include more than 1,500 historical record collections from around the world, more than 3.5 billion names in searchable databases, and more than 177,000 digitized books. You can search many of these records by name and other details, thanks to FamilySearch’s volunteer indexing program; but some are still awaiting indexing and must be browsed. This genealogical bounty is accessible from tabs at the top of FamilySearch.org.
 

Search strategies

Use these strategies for success in finding your ancestors on FamilySearch.org.

 
Search for records. Under the Search tab, click Records for a form to search for a person in indexed records. You can enter the first and last names; information about one or more life events (birth, marriage, residence, death or “any,” which could be, for example, an immigration year); and 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). 
 
 
(Click to see an enlarged image)
 
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 narrow results to a record category and then a database), 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, record images are available only to those with an LDS account or to those using the website at a FamilySearch Center (also called a Family History Center). Some collections, such as the 1910 census, link to a record image on a subscription site. You can view these with a subscription or by visiting a FamilySearch Center.
 
Browse records. Searching a specific record collection covering a place and time that fits your family helps you focus on the most relevant matches. On FamilySearch, this 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. 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.
 
Learn the key to searching specific record databases on both FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com in this short video:
 
 
 

Find relatives in the family tree. The FamilySearch Family Tree has a lofty goal: to create a family tree of the whole human race (at least since recordkeeping began). Other websites have large collections of family trees that often duplicate each other, errors and all. In an effort to increase accuracy and decrease duplication, FamilySearch has designed its tree with one profile per ancestral person, which anyone can edit. Unlike the rest of FamilySearch.org, you must register to use the Family Tree, but it’s still free.

To search the tree, click Find under the Family Tree tab. You can enter a name; gender; dates of birth, christening marriage, death and/or burial; and family members’ names. 
Adding your relatives to the Family Tree can help you find their records: FamilySearch automatically searches its record collections for matches to people in the tree. Click the Family Tree tab to start your tree and either manually enter the information, or use genealogy software that can reconcile data between the family file on your computer and Family Tree. FamilySearch-approved Windows programs include Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree and RootsMagic. To avoid duplicating people already in the tree, FamilySearch checks if it already has a profile for people you’re adding.
 
In the tree, record hints appear on the right side of the Personal Details page and as brown icons in Descendancy view. You can review and verify possible matches, and attach the records to personal profiles.
 
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. Click the Memories tab on the home page to see at a glance all the photos, stories, documents, audio and albums you or someone else has submitted and linked to your relatives.
 
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.
 
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 most of its microfilm and microfiche for a small fee through FamilySearch Centers around the world.
 
Under Search>Catalog, run a Places search to find books and microfilmed records from that place. Search on all the towns, 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. If a book or record collection is available online, the catalog entry links to the online version. Otherwise, click to order films for viewing at a local FamilySearch Center. Printed books don’t circulate to FamilySearch Centers; see if a library near you has a copy.
 
Search digitized books. Under the Search tab, click Books to search more than 177,000 digitized books, including family and county histories, transcribed records and more. 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 books can be viewed only in a FamilySearch Center. 

 

Power User Tips

  • Search with wildcards. The FamilySearch.org records search lets you use the ? wildcard in a surname to represent one letter, and the * wildcard to represent multiple letters.
  • Use Exact carefully. If the death date is marked as exact, for example, your results will contain only records that have a death date—and most of your ancestor’s records were created while he was alive.
  • Look for indexes in imaged volumes. Browsing an unindexed collection? Digitized volumes often 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. For example, click on the United States and select New York from the popup menu. You’ll see stats on the site’s New York records and a link to “Start researching in New York.” That link takes you to the New York research page, where you can search indexed New York records. Scroll down to see record collections that haven’t been indexed yet; click a title to browse.
  • Search from a Family Tree profile. FamilySearch.org can help you find records faster by filling in the search form with details on someone in the Family Tree. In the person’s Personal Details view, look under the Research Help section of the right column and click Search Records. The site searches on the name, birth year plus or minus two years, birthplace, parents and spouse. You can attach a matching record to everyone it pertains to in the tree.
  • 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. Because of FamilySearch’s fast digitizing pace, it pays to regularly check 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 on the right to move recently updated collections to the top. 

Helpful Links

From the March/April 2015 Family Tree Magazine 

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