FamilySearch Search Tips and Tricks

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There is also an instruction video about searching indexed record collections on FamilySearch.org: FamilySearch Search Tips. The handouts and presentation slides for this video can be downloaded here: FamilySearch Search Tips Handouts. You may need to activate Microsoft Silverlight to watch the video (you will be asked to do so once you visit the webpage).

1. Starting a search:

  • Start with someone who is deceased and try searching for them in a specific record.
    • For example, search for your great grandmother on the 1910 U.S. census.
  • Don’t fill in every field.
    • Most records don’t have all of your ancestor’s information.
    • Start with a basic search that includes first name (without middle name), last name, birthplace (state or country), and birth year.
  • If you enter a place name with an associated event such as birth, marriage, death or residence, the search engine will look specifically for records that match those events in the place specified. To improve your results, try using the option Restrict records by location and enter the name of the country and state or province. This will allow you to view results for all types of records in that location.
  • Only add death information if you are searching for a death record

2. If you don’t find your ancestor:

  • Change your search parameters and search again.
    • On the search results page, use the fields at the top left to change your search parameters (which fields have information).
    • Possible search combinations include first name and birth place and date or last name and place of residence.
  • Use filters to narrow your search results.
    • On the search results page, use the filters at the bottom left to narrow your search by residence, dates, or collections.
    • You can add and remove as many filters as you need.
  • Try searching only a single record collection.
    • There may be an error on the record such as a name spelled differently or an age that is ten years off that is making it difficult to find the record.
    • Searching only that record will make it easier to find your ancestor.

3. Other Search Tips:

  • Search with a year range.
    • Ages are oftentimes incorrect on records for a number of reasons.
    • Searching with a year range is more likely to pick up those variations.
  • Search for variations in the spelling of names.
    • Names are often spelled differently either by the person recording the name or by the person trying to read the handwriting and indexing the name.
    • Make sure to search for variations in spelling, middle names, nicknames, initials, and longer or shorter variations of the same name.
  • Use Browse Only record collections.
    • FamilySearch has many record collections that have not yet been indexed. You can access these record collections online though you will have to search them page by page.
    • Don’t ignore these collections, despite the time it takes to use them as they are often goldmines of information.


All FamilySearch Family Tree Tips Pages