Imagine beginning a search in the FamilySearch database, a collection of more than 1 billion names, and discovering that you cannot find the person you are looking for. You distinctly remember a relatives telling you that she saw the name of your ancestor in this database. So, why can’t you find your ancestor?
There are several reasons why a person may not find an individual in FamilySearch. Some of these reasons include:
1. The FamilySearch database does not have records of your ancestor. There is no such thing as an all-inclusive database that contains all of the names of everyone who has ever lived. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has one of the world’s most comprehensive programs for gathering and preserving records that uniquely identify those who have lived on this earth. But even with all of the resources that have been dedicated to this effort, there are still thousands of record archives throughout the world whose records have not been copied and preserved. It is possible that records of your ancestor may not have been copied yet. However, the LDS Church continues to work tirelessly to gather and preserve all the records possible. So, check FamilySearch from time to time to see if the name of your ancestor has been added.
2. You didn’t search for enough information. FamilySearch allows you to search using just a last name, but you may get so many results that it could be difficult to find the person you are looking for. Instead, start by searching for the full name, birth date, birthplace, and if available, the name of at least one parent. This will greatly reduce your search results to a number that is much easier to scan through.
3. You may be using too much information to start your search. It is possible to provide too much information when doing a search. For example, your ancestor may be in FamilySearch with just a small amount of identifying information. Try doing your search using only a name and a date and place of birth. Or try a name and a death date and place. Then add a little more indentifying information with each new search, or try different combinations of information.
4. The records may spell your ancestor’s name differently than you usually spell it. For example, if your ancestor is in a census record, the census taker may have recorded the spelling of the name differently (Holbrook as opposed to Halbook). Or if an indexer transcribed the name wrong, then the name you search for may not match the name in the record. In FamilySearch, names are standardized in order to catch variant spellings for any given name. But sometimes you may have a name that does not fall within the range of standardized names. FamilySearch tries to include variations of names in the search results, but sometimes the variation in the record you need may not be included. To address this problem, do multiple searches using different spellings of a person’s name or a place name.
5. Try searching using a range of dates. If you do not find your ancestor in your first search, trying using a range of dates in the date field. Using a range of dates, such as 1910 to 1915, will bring you results that cover several years instead of one specific year. This would catch records in which the date on the original record was incorrect. This is especially helpful with records such as marriage records and death records in which the birth date is recorded. The person providing the information when the marriage or death record was created may be off a year or two in their recollection of the person’s birth date.
6. Your ancestor’s name may be a common name, giving you so many search results that it’s difficult to find your ancestor. Try using more information that will help narrow your search results. For example, searching for John Jones will give you several hundred search results, perhaps even thousands of search results. But searching for John Jones, born October of 1873, in Springville, Kentucky, will reduce your search results to a dozen or so names. You can also narrow your search results by specifying an event (birth, christening, marriage, death, burial, and so on), the event year or a year range, or the country where the person lived, or by doing an exact search.
7. Your ancestor may still be alive. The Church makes every effort to protect the information of living people. Because of that, you cannot see information of living. If a person was submitted to FamilySearch and then die at a later date, you must go in and add their death date. That record is then available for others to see.
By carefully applying the information in the cases above, you should be able to find your ancestor, if he or she is in the FamilySearch database.