FamilySearch Web Guide

FamilySearch Web Guide

The how-tos, hacks and helps you need to make the most of the FamilySearch website.

Since its launch in May 1999, FamilySearch has provided free records to the genealogy community at an astonishing rate. Not only does the site already have more than a billion names in searchable databases, but volunteers are transcribing a million names a day from historical records. FamilySearch had racked up more than 5 billion hits two years after its launch; today that number has surpassed 15 billion—more than twice the population of the entire planet.
Owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), whose members practice genealogy as a matter of faith, Family­Search and other LDS resources—including the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City and worldwide Family History Centers—are open to people of any religion. FamilySearch offers access to helpful resources and worldwide records via a constantly improving user interface, a pilot record search project, and an ambitious plan to digitize print publications that are currently available only on site at the FHL. We’ll show you how to best use the site’s resources to track down your ancestors.

Starting out
FamilySearch genealogy resources, as you probably know, are free, funded by the LDS church and its members. For several years, the site has been undergoing an upgrade. Updates will include online family trees (a feature termed “New FamilySearch” that’s being rolled out gradually, first to LDS members), an integrated record search, and an FHL catalog withentries you can comment on. Because Family­Search is always growing, you’ll want to keep track of where to find what. Here’s a navigation guide:

  • Search records: Go here to access FamilySearch genealogy databases, described in the next section.
  • Index Records: This link takes you to the website for FamilySearch Indexing, a program in which volunteers all over the world are indexing digitized records from the LDS Church’s Granite Mountain Records Vault and partner repositories. Visit the site for details on volunteering.
  • Share: You don’t have to register to use FamilySearch, but you can opt to do so here. Then you can follow the directions under “how do I submit my genealogy?” to upload a GEDCOM file (this doesn’t work in the Firefox browser), which will be preserved in the Pedigree Resource File database. “New FamilySearch,” the forthcoming online family tree tracker, will have much-improved sharing features.
  • Research Helps: Here, you’ll find hundreds of research outlines, letter-writing guides and other resources.
  • Library: Search the FHL catalog and find your nearest branch Family History Center from this tab.
  • Help: The Help tab provides support for FamilySearch’s free Personal Ancestral File software.
Searching for ancestors
FamilySearch has several databases you can search individually or all at once. (You’ll search the Pilot Site, described in the next section, separately.) Although you can use the basic search box located on the home page, we recommend you click the Advanced Search option because it allows a more refined search.
From the Advanced Search screen, click All Resources in the left column to search the Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, 1880 US census, 1881 British Isles and Canadian censuses, International Genealogical Index (IGI), Vital Records Index (with information on births in Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark), US Social Security Death Index, and genealogy websites. Results will be grouped by database (see Search Secrets for a step-by-step demo).
If you get too many matches, narrow your search by adding another piece of information, such as a parent’s or spouse’s name. Each time you specify another search term, it’ll reduce the number of records found. Try these tips for the individual databases:

Ancestral File: Users contributed these names and vital statistics for millions of people, organized into family group sheets and pedigree charts. Enter at least your ancestor’s last name; you also can specify parents, spouse, event, date range and locale. It’s a valuable tool for tracking down siblings of your ancestor. Click an ancestor’s name in the search results to display the individual’s record. Parents’ names, if known, are shown on this page with a “Family” icon on the right side of the screen. If you click the icon, you’ll see a family group sheet, with each child linked to his own page. You can download all these records to your computer. Note that the Ancestral File data aren’t
independently verified, so you’ll want to double-check everything you find.

The IGI and batch numbers: The IGI contains several hundred million names of deceased persons worldwide, as well as information on births, marriages and christenings. When searching it, you must enter at least a last name and a region. If you’re searching for a common name, you may have to add a filter, such as a state. Once you’ve found an ancestor, scroll down the page until you see the batch number. Click the number and you’ll go back to the search form—with the number added to the form.
Be sure you’ve indicated the region of interest, such as North America, the United States or a state, then click Search. Like magic, you’ll see all the records that were entered into the IGI system in the same “batch.” So if you’re looking at a marriage record from a specific county, the batch will show you the other marriage records entered into the system from that county at the same time. This is a little-known way of seeing other family members or allied families who were married around the same time.
Pedigree Resource File and Submission Search: This lineage-linked database has names and birth, marriage and death information for millions of people. The entries also give you reference numbers telling you where to find the complete record on CD at the FHL or a branch Family History Center. Once you’ve found an ancestor in this database, click the name to display the individual record page. Near the bottom of the page you’ll see “Submission Search” and a long string of numbers. Click the number to return to the search form with the submission number automatically entered.
Next, type in your ancestor’s surname, then click the Search button. This will bring up a list of all the people with your surname whose records were submitted by the same person. This technique has the potential of alerting you to previously unknown family members and giving you the name and address of the submitter, so you can compare records.
Record Search Pilot Site: This search, accessible under the Search Records navigation menu, gives you access to records and indexes posted online through FamilySearch Indexing. This section is still under development, and at times may be unavailable as it’s being upgraded.
You can search the Pilot in several ways—see our search demos for an example. To search all the records at once, type your ancestor’s name into the box at the top of the page and click Search. To refine your search, click the More link; the search box will expand, letting you type in the name of the person’s spouse and parents.
Another method is to click on a geographic region on the map. This will generate a list of related databases available for search. Click any of the databases to get a search box; this search will only generate results within the database you’ve chosen. Below each search box is a description of the database. If you click About This Collection, you’ll get detailed information, including a link to a PDF file that contains a sample record from the database.
Search results show a list of names on the left side of the screen with event dates and any other names in the record. Mouse over a name and a preview of the record will appear in a pop-up box. Click any name and the screen to the right of the name will expand to show details of the record and a record image viewer (if an image of the record is available).

Getting research assistance
Whether you’re researching a state that’s new to you or you just found an ancestor’s country of origin, you’ll need to know what records are available for that locale. Fortunately, FamilySearch has plenty of research guidance.

On the home page under Research Helps, click Articles. On the resulting page, note the left menu: It lets you sort by title, place, subject or document type. Place and title are self-explanatory; subject includes topics such as almanacs, cemeteries, and land and property. Sort by document type to find blank research forms, maps, letter-writing guides for sending record requests in foreign languages, and step-by-step guides for a variety of genealogical tasks.
You’ll also find historical backgrounds of most places and research outlines with an overview of the records available for a given place. For example, on the Indiana Research Outline, when you look under Military Records and click on Revolutionary War, you’ll read that many veterans settled in Indiana and get recommendations for several books containing name indexes.
Next, return to the Research Helps menu and this time click Guidance. This section helps you find vital records. First, click on the first letter of the place where your ancestors lived, then scroll to the place name. On the next screen, you’ll see categories for birth, marriage and death, with dates under each. Click a date range, and your “research assistant” will give you a strategy for tracking down those particular records. In addition, you’ll see links to a timeline for the place you’ve chosen, as well as a description of the time period (in the left column).
The Research Guidance for Irish marriages, 1864 to present, for example, links to a listing of FHL records on microfilm and in books. And from the “description of the time period” for Alabama births, 1702-1816, you’ll learn that birth information for this era may appear in land claims, Revolutionary War pensions, and court and church records.
FamilySearch also offers online courses on topics in English, German, Russian, Italian, Mexican and US research. To find them, click Library in the main navigation bar, then Education. On the next page, click Research Series Classes Online.
Yet another way to get help is through the FamilySearch Wiki, which has research information from genealogists around the world. To contribute your own expertise, follow the site’s directions to create a new page or add to a page that already exists.

Visiting the library (virtually)

The Family History Library has more than 2.5 million microforms and 300,000 books. To search the catalog, click Library, then Library Catalog. You can search by several variables, including surname, place, title and keyword (see the March 2009 Family Tree Magazine for tips on using this and other online library catalogs). On a search results page, you’ll see either a list of titles or (in the case of a place search) a list of subjects such as census, vital records and cemeteries. Click on each to bring up yet another page of results. Each title gives the call number, format, author, notes and subject.
A place search on a town or county is a great way to see what records are microfilmed at the Family History Library. You can rent these films through your local Family History Center. Books aren’t loaned out, but the one you need may have been digitized. If it has, the Notes section of the catalog entry will have a link to view a digital version—giving you a taste of the many FamilySearch resources still to come.
Vital Statistics
Web address: <>

Owner: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Family History Library, 35 N. West Temple St., Room 344, Salt Lake City, UT 84150, (801) 240-2584 or (866) 406-1830

Usage stats

  • Hits since launch: 15 billion
  • Visitors since launch: 150 million
  • Average hits per day: 10 million
  • Average visitors per day: 50,000
  • Pages viewed per day: 1 million

More than 1 billion names in searchable databases

Major collections

  • 1850 through 1880, 1900 and 1920 US census records or indexes
  • 1851, 1871, 1891 Canadian census indexes; 1881 census records
  • 1881 British Isles census
  • Mexico 1930 census, marriages and church records
  • 25,000-plus digitized publications
  • Rio de Janeiro civil registrations
  • Social Security Death Index
1971 | Family History Library opens
1999 | Visitors overwhelm and crash newly launched FamilySearch site
2003 | Work begins on “New FamilySearch”
2007 | New FamilySearch begins rolling out to LDS members
2007 | FamilySearch announces FamilySearch Indexing
2007 | FamilySearch launches Record Search Pilot Site
2008 | FamilySearch Wiki launches

From the January 2010 Family Tree Magazine

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