World Vital Records Website Quick Guide

World Vital Records Website Quick Guide

Learn the best ways to search for your ancestors in the genealogy databases on the World Vital Records website.

Membership Options

 Level Benefits Cost
 Subscriber  access all premium records  $16.25 per month or $89.99 per year




World Vital Records provides access to a wide range of family history resources for the United States and other countries. In addition to the vital records indexes it’s named for, it has all available US censuses, English and Welsh censuses from 1841 to 1911, passenger lists, family and local history books, yearbooks, tombstone photos and newspapers. Started in 2006 by some of the founders of, World Vital Records is smaller and its search capabilities less sophisticated, but it offers a broad enough records selection and enough unique resources to make it a worthwhile subscription. To view images of Revolutionary War pensions and Confederate service records, you’ll need a separate subscription to content partner Fold3. World Vital Records also provides access to billions of names in family trees from MyHeritage, which acquired the site in 2011 (you need a MyHeritage subscription to contact tree owners).

Search strategies 

Follow these techniques to find your family information in World Vital Records:

Search for a name. World Vital Records lets you search on a given name, family name, place, keyword and range of years. To find alternate surname spellings, select Soundex or Double Metaphone under Match Type. The Advanced Search form, located under the Search tab, has the same options plus the ability to narrow your results to those from a specific country. 
 (Click to see a larger image in a new window.)
To get a match, all the criteria you specify must appear in the same record about a person in a fielded database (such as censuses and passenger lists), or in the same line or paragraph in a book. If you enter more than one word in the Given Name or Family Name field, the words must appear next to each other in matching records.
Try different combinations of search terms. The Place field searches only parts of a record marked as “Place” entries. When searching census records, the Place box looks for matches in both place of residence and place of birth. The Keyword field searches more parts of records, so try entering a place in the keyword field, or leaving it out. A date search gets matches only on databases containing dates, so leave out the date if you get too few matches.
In pursuit of George W. White, an artist in Hamilton, Ohio, I experimented, entering White in the Family Name field and George W., G. W., George or Geo in the Given Name field. And I ran all those searches with and without Hamilton in the Place field and artist in the Keyword field. Trying all these possibilities produced several matches that I would’ve missed searching on just George W. White, especially in newspapers.
Search a single database. All the databases on World Vital Records use the same generic search form, but searching one database can help you home in on your ancestor’s record more quickly. To find databases on the surnames, places and subjects relevant to your research, select Card Catalog from the Search tab. Enter a surname in the Title box to find family histories. Search on the name of a town, county, state or country to find histories and records. Also, try keywords such as loyalist, pilgrim and confederate. (Don’t worry about capitalization.)
Keep in mind that the site searches for the exact string of characters you enter. A search on loyalist also finds titles containing loyalists. A search on Lancaster County will find A History of Lancaster County, but not The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster.

Power-User Tips

  • Search with wildcards. You can use an asterisk as a wildcard at the end of a word, but not for the first three letters. For example, a search on Rob*son finds Robson, Robinson and Robertson. You can also use a wildcard in the Keyword field: A search on Pittsburg* in the Keyword field finds both Pittsburg and Pittsburgh.
  • Find promising book collections. To search books from a specific collection, select Popular Collections from the Search tab. Select a collection and click on the Collection Title heading to sort the collection by title. 
  • The Genealogy and Family History Digitized Book Collection has books from the Genealogical Publishing Co., including titles on Colonial genealogy, immigrants, royal ancestry and early records. The Rare Genealogical and Historical Digitized Book Collection has books from Quintin Publications, including published genealogies, biographies, local histories and Quebec church records. The Godfrey Library has many published genealogies. Try searching and browsing books that look relevant to your research. 
  • Three generations of my ancestors lived near Dell Rapids, SD. Entering the family name Morgan and place Dell Rapids produces a match in The Genealogy of the Cleveland and Cleaveland Families, Vol. 2. It traces my grandfather’s ancestry all the way back to the immigrant Moses Cleveland, who settled Plymouth, Mass., in 1635.
  • View and save newspaper articles. Use your browser to zoom in on a newspaper page. In Chrome, move the mouse cursor near the lower part of the image and click on the plus sign. In Firefox and Internet Explorer, move the cursor near the top of the image and click on the plus sign. You can also use your browser to print or save a page, but I prefer to use the Windows Snipping Tool to save just an article.
  • Find your search terms in a newspaper. World Vital Records doesn’t highlight your search terms in newspapers, but you can use your browser to find them. With Firefox or Internet Explorer for Windows, hold down the Ctrl key and press the F (or click on the magnifying glass icon in Firefox) to search for a word. In Firefox, click on the box to highlight matches on the page. To search for a word with Chrome, you need to disable the browser’s built-in PDF viewer and use a different plugin, such as Adobe Reader. Enter chrome:plugins in the address bar and click Disable under the entry for Chrome PDF Viewer. Enable the Adobe Reader plug-in and check the box for “Always allowed.” 
  • Try it free. You can sign up for a seven-day free trial using the Free Trial tab on the home page. You must enter your credit card number. To avoid charges, be sure to cancel before the trial ends.

Helpful Links

From the March/April 2015 Family Tree Magazine