Quick Guide to the Fold3 Genealogy Website

By Rick Crume Premium

Membership Options

 Level  Benefits  Cost
Basic  Access free records and member images, upload images, create Memorial Pages, spotlight record images, annotate member images  free
 All-access  All of the above, plus access and share premium record images  $79.95 per year or $7.95 per month



Fold3 aims to be the premiere online source for researching US military records. Formerly known as Footnote.com, the site originally sought to publish a range of digitized original documents from the National Archives and Records Administration and other repositories. Ancestry.com acquired Footnote in 2010 and narrowed its focus to military records. In 2011, Ancestry.com renamed the site Fold3, a reference to the flag-folding ceremony in which the third fold memorializes a military veteran.
Key resources here include Revolutionary War pension files (from NARA microfilm M804, which includes the complete file); a growing collection of War of 1812 pension records (digitized as part of the Preserve the Pensions Project, these are free to all members); Civil War service and some pension records; FBI Case Files; WWII “Old Man’s Draft” registration cards; and photos, Navy cruise books and casualty lists from more recent wars.
Nonmilitary records from the Footnote days include city directories, naturalizations, Native American enrollment cards and Nebraska homestead records.

Search strategies

These search techniques will help you find your ancestors’ records among Fold3’s bounty:

Search for a name. Use the search boxes at the top of the home page to find a name in all the site’s records. Click on the plus sign (or click the Search tab, then Advanced) for a search form (shown below) that lets you add other criteria. Those include a keyword that might appear in the record you want, the place, a year range, and how recently the record was added to Fold3 (great if you’re repeating a search and want to see only new results). You also can decide whether to get results in records indexed by optical character recognition (OCR) software, such as newspapers and city directories. In these records, a first and last name you type may not appear close together. To improve your results in OCR-indexed records, search on a name as a phrase in the keyword box, for example, “John Q. Smith” and “Smith John Q.”
(Click to see a larger image.)
For example, a search on the name of my relative Frank Shaubut produces four matches. The first, an index to Civil War service records, says he was a private in Company E of the 9th Infantry of the Minnesota Volunteers. Two matches in city directories show he worked as an accountant in New Orleans in 1867 and 1868. The other match is a memorial page where Fold3 members can add photos, stories, facts and links to more information about him.
Filter your results. If your search doesn’t produce the records you want, try running a broad search with just a name, then using Folds3’s sophisticated filters to narrow your results. The right side of your search results page will show every record matching your search. To the left, you’ll see filtering options. There, checkboxes let you limit your results to specific military conflicts, to nonmilitary records, or to contributions from Fold3 members (such as Memorial Pages and photo uploads). In the middle of the page, you can use timeline sliders to limit results by date, a clickable map to see only matches associated with one or more states, and checkboxes to limit results by type (historical documents or Memorial Pages) and by the date they were added to Fold3.
Browse collections. If you want to see what collections Fold3 has for a given conflict, or you know when and where your ancestor’s record was created, browse to the record set you want, then navigate through it page by page. First, hover over the Search link on the home page and select Browse. Select a category on the left (such as Civil War), then select a collection. From there, subcategories depend on how the collection is organized—you might select a volume number, year range, place or alphabetical range. When you’ve honed in on record images, click one to open it in the Fold3 viewer. Click Open Filmstrip at the bottom to page through the records. Note that you can download only one page at a time, which can take awhile for long service records and pension files.

Power User Tips

  • Search with a wildcard. If you’re unsure how your relative’s name is spelled in a record, you can search with wildcards in the keyword search box (available on the advanced search form). Use ? to stand in for one letter or the * to stand in for zero or more, for example, a search on Shaub*t finds Shaubut and Shaubot.
  • Get a free trial. Click the 7-Day Free Trial link on the home page to try Fold3 for free. You’ll have to enter your contact information and credit card. If you don’t want to purchase a subscription, you must cancel before the end of the trial to avoid charges. You can do so using the Account Details link under your user name.
  • Watch a search. After you run a search, click the Watch button at the top of your search results to be notified when a new record matches your search. Access your Watched records by clicking your user name at the top right of the page. 
  • Annotate records. When you find a record of interest, you can use buttons in the image viewer to add notes to people, places and dates it mentions. For example, if a record mentions a woman by her married surname, you could add her maiden name. These annotations become searchable, and others interested in that record can contact you through the site. 
  • Create a Memorial Page. You can honor veterans and other ancestors by creating Memorial Pages with photos, stories and links to Fold3 records. Start with one of the automatically generated pages created from WWII Army Enlistment records, the Social Security Death Index and other data sets, or start a new page. You also can create pages about any person, place or historical event. Access your pages by clicking your user name at the top right.
  • Attach records to your tree. Have an Ancestry Member Tree? Click the Save to Ancestry button in Fold3’s image viewer to add the record to a profile in your tree. 

Helpful Links

From the March/April 2015 Family Tree Magazine