A Guide to Research
- 1 Why Family History?
- 2 Introduction
- 3 Research Process
- 3.1 1. Identify What You Know About Your Family
- 3.2 2. Decide What You Want to Learn About Your Family
- 3.3 3. Select Records to Search
- 3.3.1 Identify a Record Category
- 3.3.2 Compiled Records
- 3.3.3 Original Records
- 3.3.4 Choose a Record Type
- 3.3.5 Select Specific Records to Search
- 3.3.6 Describe the Records on Your Research Log
- 3.4 4. Obtain and Search the Record
- 3.5 5. Use the Information
- 4 Additional Information
- 5 Selecting Record Types
- 6 Related Content
Why Family History?
Why do members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do family history research? They do it because they are motivated by a love of their heritage.
The purpose of this guide is to help you discover your ancestry using the records available in the Family History Library, the FamilySearch™ Center, or one of the more than two thousand family history centers located throughout the world.
Records at the Family History Library
Since it was established in 1894, the Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become the largest of its kind in the world. The library has collected millions of microfilms, thousands of microfiche and books, and many other records. Most of the microfilms have been acquired through an extensive microfilming program that began in 1938. Microfilmers are presently filming original documents in churches, courthouses, and other archives in many countries. The originals of these microfilms are preserved in a vault in the mountains near Salt Lake City. Copies of the microfilms are available for use at the Family History Library and at family history centers.
Some of the information collected by the library is available on a computer system called FamilySearch™. This information is stored on compact discs. If you are unfamiliar with computers, there is a program available on the computer to help you learn about using FamilySearch.
Services and Resources
Library employees and family history center volunteers can help you use the records. They can't do research for you, but they will help you use the records to do your own research.
The FamilySearch™ Center is designed to introduce individuals unacquainted with family history to the joy and excitement of discovering their ancestors. The center, located in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building at 15 East South Temple Street in Salt Lake City, has FamilySearch computers, the United States 1920 census, and other records designed to assist the beginning researcher.
Family History Library
The Family History Library is designed to help individuals experienced in family history research who need information from many records to extend their family lines. Most of the records more advanced researchers need are available at the library, which is located at 35 North West Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Family History Centers
Family history centers are located throughout the world. Each has a basic collection of records and research publications to assist researchers. Each center has computers with Internet access. Most records available on microfilm or microfiche at the Family History Library may be ordered for use at the centers.
Family History Research involves five basic steps (see chart below).
Each step is explained on the following pages. Staff members will be glad to help you complete these steps. It is helpful if you have already done steps 1 and 2 before coming.
In addition to this booklet, the video presentation A Guide to Research is also available to introduce you to the research process.
1. Identify What You Know About Your Family
Fill Out a Pedigree Chart and Family Group Record
Recall as much information as you can about yourself and your family members. Record what you know on pedigree charts and family group records. Estimate dates and places if necessary.
- Write names as: Benjamin BLAKE
- Write dates as: 12 Mar. 1815
- Write places as: Blandford, Dorset, England
A pedigree chart provides space to record information on four generations: yourself, your parents, your grandparents, and your great-grandparents.
A family group record provides space to record information about the parents and children of a family. You can also record the source of your information. Fill out a family group record for each couple on your pedigree chart.
If you do not have a pedigree chart or family group record, you can use the ones in the back of this guide. Family group records and pedigree charts are also available for purchase.
Click here to view and print a family group sheet.
Gather Additional Information
If you need more information, you may want to gather information from sources in your home or from a relative. Look for journals; scrapbooks; old letters; family Bibles; copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates; photographs; school records; military records; obituaries; deeds; and wills. Record on your pedigree chart and family group record any new information you find.
You may want to keep notes about your family history on a separate sheet of paper. These notes could be biographical information such as military service; education; social or economic status; migrations; participation in community, social, religious, or historical events; or physical descriptions.
Organize Your Records
Organize your records for easy access (see step 5 for suggestions on organizing).
2. Decide What You Want to Learn About Your Family
Select an Ancestor
Select one ancestor you would like to learn more about. Begin with an ancestor for whom you already have some information. You will need at least his surname and some idea of when and where he lived. If possible, select an ancestor born before 1920, because most of the library's records date from before 1920. A staff member can help you.
To select an ancestor, look at the entries on your pedigree chart that have one of the following problems:
Missing information: names, dates, or places are missing.
Incomplete information: part of a name, date, or place is missing.
Unverified information: information cannot be traced to a credible source (that is, someone who would have known the information first hand).
Conflicting information: information from two sources does not agree.
Select a Research Question
Identify questions you want to answer about the person you selected. For example:
- Where was he born? or married?
- Where or when did he die?
- What were the names of his children?
- Who were his parents?
Select one question as your research objective. By focusing on one question at a time, you increase your chances for success.
Prepare a Research Log
Write the name you selected, your research objective, and where he may have lived at the top of a research log. You will use this log to list each record you search and the information you find, as shown above. Extra research logs are available for purchase.
3. Select Records to Search
Identify a Record Category
The Family History Library and family history centers have the following basic categories of records.
These are records of previous research on individuals and families already done by others, such as family histories, biographies, or genealogies with pedigree charts and family group records. Though compiled records are very helpful, some information may be inaccurate or incomplete. The information is submitted by library patrons and is not verified by the Family History Library. Always carefully evaluate the information you find.
These are records created at the time of important events in your ancestors' lives. For example, a local church or the local government may have recorded your ancestors' births, christenings, marriages, and burials.
These are records dealing with geographical, historical, or cultural information. They include local histories, maps, gazetteers, language dictionaries, and guidebooks. Search these records to learn more about the area where your ancestors lived and the events that may have affected their lives and the records about them.
These are records that help you find a record or a name in a record. They include indexes and library catalogs.
It is best to search compiled records first. You can save a lot of time by seeing what information others have already found about your family. Compiled records can usually be searched quickly and easily. The following compiled records are available at the Family History Library or family history centers.
Ancestral File is a collection of pedigree and family group records submitted by people throughout the world. It is available on computer as part of FamilySearch™. It contains millions of names, and new names are added each year. Using Ancestral File, you can see an ancestor's pedigree, his family (both as a child and as a parent), his descendants, and the names and addresses of the people who submitted the information. You can make corrections to any errors you find in the file.
You will need the name of your ancestor to search this file. Printed instructions and computerized help messages are available to help you use the file. You may also ask a staff member for assistance. You can hand-copy the information you find, make a printed paper copy at cost, or copy the information onto a diskette to use with your home computer.
Ancestral File, Pedigree Chart
The International Genealogical Index contains millions of names of deceased persons from around the world, and new names are added periodically. It lists birth and marriage information and dates of ordinances performed in temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It also gives the sources of the information. Many of the names come from original birth and marriage records from the early 1500s to 1875. Other names were submitted by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The index is available on computer as part of FamilySearch and on microfiche.
The index identifies only the parents or spouse of a person. It does not show family members linked together in pedigrees or family groups as does Ancestral File.
International Genealogical Index
The library has thousands of family histories. In a family history, you may find genealogical information, photographs, biographical sketches, and stories about the family. Books are usually available only in the Family History Library. However, most histories are also available on microfilm or microfiche and can be ordered for use at a family history center.
To find a family history, you will need to use the "Surname" section of the Family History Library Catalog (if using the microfiche edition) or the "Surname" search in FamilySearch. The catalog does not list every name found in a family history. Only major families found in a history are listed. Look for your ancestor's surname (last name).
After you find catalog entries that contain your ancestor's surname, read the descriptions to see if the family history matches the time period and place in which your ancestor lived. The computer version of the catalog allows you to search for key words in the descriptions. This feature can save you time if many family histories contain your ancestor's surname.
When you find a book or microfilm that you want to view, write the complete call number, author, and title in your research log (see the example). Then obtain the book or microfilm as explained in step 4.
Family History Library Catalog Entry, Surname Section
Other Sources of Compiled Records
Other sources of compiled records are available. Take your pedigree chart and research log to a staff member to determine whether any of the following sources would be helpful and how to locate them. Most compiled records are described in the Family History Library Catalog.
- Genealogical periodicals and indexes, such as the Periodical Source Index
- Family newsletters
- Local histories
- Family Group Records Collection
Most original records in the Family History Library are microfilm copies of records found in courthouses, churches, government offices, historical societies, and other archives throughout the world. Some records are available as books. Others are available on computer as part of FamilySearch. The following are some of the major types of original records available:
Vital Records and Civil Registration
Most government offices keep records of births, marriages, and deaths. In the Family History Library Catalog these records are listed under "Vital Records" for the United States and Canada, and "Civil Registration" for other countries.
The church your ancestors attended may have kept records of their christenings, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, or burials. Church records are especially important if civil vital records are unavailable for a time period or region where your ancestor lived.
From cemetery records and headstones, you may be able to learn the names, birth dates, and death dates of family members buried near each other. The epitaphs may help you establish the relationships between ancestors.
Most national governments conduct periodic censuses. Beginning in 1850, United States federal censuses listed every member of a household by name, with information about sex, age, country or state of birth, and occupation. Census records are especially helpful in determining where your ancestors lived.
- British 1851 Census
When a person dies, court records may be created containing a copy of the person's will, if one exists, and the court's decision about how the estate is to be distributed among his heirs. These are called probate records, and they often provide names and family relationships.
The names of individuals who served in the military or who were eligible for military service appear in military records.
Passenger lists or other immigration records may provide the date or ship on which an immigrant ancestor arrived or the name of the port to which he came.
Note: To find the records of an immigrant's place of origin, you usually need to know the exact city, town, or county where he lived. If you do not know this, search the records of the country to which he migrated. For more information, see the publication Tracing Immigrant Origins, available at the library or family history centers.
Other Original Documents
Other original documents include court, land, naturalization, taxation, business, medical, and school records. Be sure to check all jurisdictions (for example, town, county, state, and country) that may have kept records about your ancestor.
Choose a Record Type
When selecting a record, first decide which type of record may contain the information you are looking for (such as vital record, cemetery record, or military record). To decide upon a record type, do one of the following:
See the chart on the last page of this guide, or
Use a printed research outline for your country, state, or province. Each country research outline includes a chart showing which types of original records contain information for various types of research objectives. The outlines also describe what records are available for an area and a time period, or
Take your research log to a staff member and ask for help in determining which type of record you should search for.
Select Specific Records to Search
Once you have determined what type of record to search for, you will need to select a specific record. Most original records are listed in the "Locality" (or place) section of the Family History Library Catalog. This section lists records by country, state or province, county, or town. You will need to know the place where your ancestor lived and the type of record you chose to search, such as census, land and property, or vital record. The record type is called a topic in the FamilySearch version of the Family History Library Catalog.
When you find the records for the place where your ancestor lived, read the descriptions to see if a record covers the time period you need. Indexes are often available for original records. If one is available, search the index first.
If you do not find any records listed under a place, search for records of other jurisdictions, such as the state, county, or city. You can also look for records of nearby places. Do not hesitate to ask a staff member for assistance.
Family History Library Catalog Entry, Locality Section
Describe the Records on Your Research Log
On your research log, record the authors, titles, time periods, and Family History Library call numbers of any records you select. Your research log might look like the example. You now have the information you need to obtain a record.
Identify a record category. Search compiled records first. Then search original records.
Choose a record type. Use the chart in this guide or a research outline.
Select specific records to search. Find the locality and record type in the Locality section of the Family History Library Catalog.
Describe the records in your research log.
4. Obtain and Search the Record
Obtain the Record
At the Family History Library
Records at the Family History Library are arranged by geographical area. The call number of the record tells you which area of the library this record is located in and whether it is a book, microfilm, or microfiche. The following are sample call numbers:
FHL US/CAN Film
3075101 Item 7
FHL US/CAN Book
To obtain the record, do the following:
Go to the floor that has the records for that geographical area. These areas are listed beside the elevators on each floor. You can also ask a staff member for help or obtain a map of the library from the information desks.
Locate the book, microfilm, or microfiche storage areas.
Look for the call number of the record. Records are filed numerically by call number. Library attendants are located next to the copy centers on each floor and can assist you.
Take the microfilms or microfiche to the appropriate reader to use them.
Not all microfilms are located in the library. You may need to order some microfilms. A library attendant can help you do this. The microfilm will arrive in a few hours or a few days, depending on where it is stored.
At a Family History Center
Take your research log to a staff member. He or she can tell you whether the center already has the record. If not, the staff member will help you fill out a Microfilm and Microfiche Order Card and tell you the fees for postage and handling. Individual microfilms can be lent to family history centers for different lengths of time. The microfilm or microfiche should arrive in one to three weeks. Books cannot be lent to family history centers.
Not every record about your ancestor is at the Family History Library or a family history center. You may need to obtain copies of some records at other libraries, archives, or government and church offices.
Search the Record
Do not hesitate to ask a staff member for help to use the microfilm or microfiche equipment. Printed instructional materials are available to help you search some records.
If you have difficulty finding a record on a microfilm, check the item number of the record. Several records may be on one microfilm, and you may need to read the title page for each item to make sure you have the correct one. Names in an original record may be arranged chronologically or alphabetically. The following are common research problems you should be aware of.
Many immigrants changed or shortened their names after arriving in the new country. You may need to check for various possibilities.
Check for variant spellings of your ancestor's name. Many recorders spelled names according to sound. A person may be listed with a nickname or abbreviation.
Most original documents are handwritten. If you cannot read a letter, look at other names in the record to see how the writer made certain letters. Some handbooks illustrate the ways letters were written in earlier times.
You may want to check a range of dates for an event. It may be recorded on a different date than you expect.
Record the Results
Record what you find on your research log, even if you don't find any new information. If you don't do this, you may waste time searching the same record again. Make copies of key documents.
Copy centers are located on each floor of the Family History Library and the FamilySearch Center. Machines are available to copy books, microfilm, and microfiche.
Many family history centers have equipment for photocopying books, microfilm, and microfiche. If a center does not have the equipment, you can request photocopies of pages of books, microfilms, or microfiche from the Family History Library. Ask a staff member for a photoduplication request form. You will need to list the author, title, and call number of the record, and specific page numbers. Fees are listed on the form.
Please be aware that many of the books, microfilms, and microfiche in the library are copyrighted. The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.
Under certain conditions specified in the law, a library patron may make a photocopy or other reproduction of copyrighted material. One of these conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." The law calls this a "fair use" of the material, which does not infringe on the copyright held by its owner. If someone later uses a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," he or she may be liable for copyright infringement.
5. Use the Information
Evaluate the Information
In order to evaluate your information, consider the following:
- Did you find the information you were looking for?
- Is the information complete?
- Does the information conflict with other information you have?
- Is the source of the information credible?
Transfer the Information
Add any new information to your family group records. Record the source of the information. The source can help you resolve problems with conflicting information. For example, if a birth record gives one birth date, and an obituary gives another birth date for the same person, you will want to determine which date came from the more authoritative source (usually the source made closest to the time of the event).
Organize Your Records
Organize your records for easy access. One possible order is as follows:
- Pedigree charts numbered and arranged numerically
- Family group records in alphabetical order by the husband's name
- Notes, research logs, and copies of documents behind the related family group record
A number of computer programs can help you organize your records on your home computer. For information about programs that are compatible with FamilySearch (meaning they can share data easily with any FamilySearch file), see a staff member. One of these programs, Personal Ancestral File, is available for use at the Family History Library and at most family history centers.
You can help make research easier and faster for yourself and for others by sharing the results of your research. Share the information you find with family members. They may have more information for you. The Family History Library also offers several opportunities for you to share information.
Contribute to Ancestral File. Submit your family information on a floppy diskette (using Personal Ancestral File or other FamilySearch-compatible software). See the printed instructions in Contributing Information to Ancestral File for more information, or contact FamilySearch™ Support, 15 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84150; telephone 1-800-346-6044.
Share your family history. If you have written a family history, compiled an index, or created a database of genealogical information, you can place it in the Family History Library to be preserved and used by others. If possible, please grant permission (or obtain it from the copyright owner) for the library to microfilm the record and circulate it wherever the library chooses. Contact the Acquisitions Unit, Family History Library, 35 North West Temple Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84150, for more information.
Submit names for temple ordinance work. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may want to submit names of ancestors for temple ordinance work. A staff member or your ward family history consultant can help you.
Repeat the Process
Repeat the research process by choosing—
- Another record to look at, or
- Another research objective for this person, or
- Another ancestor to learn about.
You can learn more about how to do research in the and at family history centers.
We hope this brief introduction will help you develop a lifelong interest in your family history. We invite you to return to the Family History Library, the FamilySearch Center, or a family history center as often as you would like. Please let us know if we can be of any further help.
Indexing of Records
As you search for your family members beyond the first few generations, you will often use original records. Many of these records are not indexed and may be in languages or handwriting you are not familiar with. You can help index names found in original records, thereby making the records more accessible to other researchers.
If you have a current indexing project that you will be publishing, please register it by writing to the Genealogical Projects Registry, 35 North West Temple Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84150. To obtain information from the registry, write to Genealogical Projects Registry, National Genealogical Society, 4527 Seventeenth Street North, Arlington, VA 22207-2399, USA.
Thousands of volunteers are helping to extract or index information from vital, census, and immigration records. For information about how you can participate in the Family Record Extraction program, ask a staff member for the name of the local extraction director.
The following services are also available to you.
A brief orientation program is available at the Family History Library. To preserve the quiet research environment of the library, guided tours are not provided. Family history centers may provide orientation programs, including guided tours. Ask a staff member.
An orientation to FamilySearch™ and the FamilySearch Center is available on each FamilySearch computer in the center.
For group visits, please contact the Family History Library, the FamilySearch™ Center, or a family history center in advance for a list of services, hours, holiday schedules, and other information that can make your visit more successful. Basic services are listed in the publication Family History Library and Family History Centers Services and Resources. This publication is updated annually. Ensure that your group is prepared to use the facility. In the Family History Library and FamilySearch Center, you can request a room for classes or meetings. The FamilySearch Center has rooms available with FamilySearch computers for group activities.
When you are in the research areas of the Family History Library, please separate into groups of no more than five, with a leader for each group.
Ask a staff member about classes, printed aids, video training programs, and other instructional resources. Genealogical forms and instructional publications are available for sale. In the Family History Library, items for sale are located near each copy center.
Accredited Genealogist® Professionals
If you wish to hire a researcher, ask a staff member for a list of accredited genealogist® professionals and the publication Hiring a Professional Genealogist. A list of qualified researchers can be found at www.icapgen.org. These people have passed a major examination in a geographic or subject area. They sign a code of ethics and renew their credentials every five years.
The Family History Library will respond to any questions that can be answered briefly but does not provide a research service. Ask a staff member for a Reference Questionnaire form on which to send your question.
Family History Centers
Family History centers are located throughout the world. You can use most of the Family History Library's microfilms on loan. Ask a staff member for a list of addresses for a specific area.
Other Libraries and Archives
Excellent information is available from courthouses, libraries, archives, and societies. Ask a staff member for addresses and more information.
The Family History Library, the FamilySearch Center, and family history centers offer their services to the public with the understanding that those who use the collection will abide by the guidelines governing such use. Please observe the following rules so that all patrons can successfully use the facilities:
- Please handle the equipment, books, and other materials carefully.
- Please maintain a quiet atmosphere for research.
- Do not leave personal belongings unattended. The library or center is not responsible for items that are lost or stolen.
- Children under twelve must be kept under the control of their parents.
- Food and drinks are not permitted in a family history center. In the Family History Library, they are permitted only in the snack room.
- Smoking is not permitted anywhere in the building or on the grounds.
The Family History Library has the following additional rules. Ask a staff member at the FamilySearch Center or a family history center for the rules for their facilities.
- You may take up to five rolls of microfilm from the cabinets at any given time. Please refile each microfilm you use.
- If the library is busy and you expect to be away from a microfilm reader for more than thirty minutes, take your materials with you so someone else can use the machine. Materials left at an unused reader for more than thirty minutes may be removed by a library attendant.
- You may take up to five books from the shelves at any given time. Please return books to the red shelves at the end of the stacks where the books were found.
- When using photocopy equipment, please limit yourself to five copies when others are waiting.
Selecting Record Types
To obtain information about—
| RECORD TYPES|
Look in the Family History Library Catalog, Locality section for these record types:
|First look for:||Then look for:|
|Age||Census, Vital Records*, Cemeteries||Miltary Records, Taxation, Obituaries|
|Birth date||Vital Records*, Church Records, Bible Records||Cemeteries, Obituaries, Census, Newspapers, Military Records|
|Birth date||Vital Records*, Church Records, Bible Records||Cemeteries, Obituaries, Census, Newspapers, Military Records|
|Birthplace||Vital Records*, Church Records, Census||Newspapers, Obituaries, Military Records|
|City or parish of foreign birth||Church Records, Genealogy, Biography, Obituaries, Naturalization and Citizenship||Emigration and Immigration, Vital Records*, History|
|Country of foreign birth||Census, Emigration and Immigration, Naturalization and Citizenship, Vital Records*||Military Records, Church Records, Newspapers, Obituaries|
|County origins and boundaries||History, Maps||Gazetteers|
|Death||Vital Records, Cemeteries, Probate Records, Church Records, Obituaries||Newspapers, Military Records, Court Records, Land and Property|
|Divorce||Court Records, Divorce Records||Newspapers, Vital Records*|
|Ethnicity||Minorities, Native Races, Societies||Church Records, Emigration and Immigration, Naturalization and Citizenship|
|Historical background||History, Periodicals, Genealogy||Church History, Minorities|
|Immigration or emigration date||Emigration and Immigration, Naturalization and Citizenship, Genealogy||Census, Biography, Newspapers, Church Records|
|Maiden name||Vital Records*, Church Records, Newspapers, Bible Records||Military Records, Cemeteries, Probate Records, Obituaries|
|Marriage||Vital Records*, Church Records, Census, Newspapers, Bible Records||Biography, Genealogy, Military Records, Probate Records, Land and Property, Nobility|
|Occupation||Census, Directories, Emigration and Immigration, Civil Registration, Occupations, Probate Records||Newspapers, Court Records, Obituaries, Officials and Employees|
|Parents, children, and other family members||Vital Records*, Church Records, Census, Probate Records, Obituaries||Bible Records, Newspapers, Emigration and Immigration, Land and Property|
|Physical description||Military Records, Biography, Court Records||Naturalization and Citizenship, Civil Registration, Church Records, Emigration and Immigration, Genealogy, Newspapers|
|Place-finding aids||Gazetteers, Maps||Directories, History, Periodicals, Land and Property, Taxation|
|Place (town) of residence when you know only the state||Census, Genealogy, Military Records, Vital Records*, Church Records, Directories||Biography, Probate Records, History, Land and Property, Taxation|
|Places family has lived||Census, Land and Property, History||Military Records, Taxation, Obituaries|
|Previous research (compiled genealogy)||Genealogy, Periodicals, History||Biography, Societies, Nobility|
|Record-finding aids||Archives and Libraries, Societies, Genealogy||Periodicals|
|Religion||Church Records, History, Biography, Civil Registration||Bible Records, Cemeteries, Obituaries, Genealogy|
*Outside the United States and Canada, see "Civil Registration" instead of "Vital Records."
Note: Also search the Family History Library Catalog, Subject section for key topics in your objective.